Kiev vows to push on and crush separatists

Kremlin calls for end to bloodshed amid claims it furnishes weapons and fighters

An elderly Ukrainian man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of the river Dniper, as Kiev insists it is doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

An elderly Ukrainian man exercises at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of the river Dniper, as Kiev insists it is doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

 

Ukraine has vowed to push on with its bid to crush pro-Moscow rebels in eastern regions, despite fresh calls from Russia to end the increasingly bloody crackdown.

“Our armed forces have completed their assigned missions and completely cleared the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region and the northern part of the Lugansk region of separatists,” said Ukraine’s defence minister Mykhailo Koval.

“We will continue our work until this region starts working and leading a normal life,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced that, in a telephone conversation with French president François Hollande, Russian leader Vladimir Putin “noted the need for the authorities in Kiev to immediately halt the violence and bloodshed and for the start of direct dialogue between Kiev and representatives of the country’s southeastern regions”.

Moscow also claimed that, during its fight with heavily armed separatists, Ukraine had breached the Geneva Convention on protecting civilians during wartime. Kiev insists it is doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians.

 

‘Partial withdrawal’

Nato said yesterday it noticed a reduction in Russian forces near Ukraine’s troubled eastern regions. “We have seen signs of at least a partial withdrawal. Our estimate is that around two-thirds of Russian troops have been or are being pulled back,” said Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

 

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, claimed, however, there was “evidence of Russians crossing over, trained personnel from Chechnya trained in Russia, who’ve come across to stir things up, to engage in fighting”.

In recent days, dozens of bodies of rebel fighters have been taken back to Russia from Donetsk, where they were killed in a battle with government troops for control of the local airport.

Some men fighting with the separatists have admitted to reporters they are Chechen, but they and the Caucasus republic’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov insist they are there as volunteers and without official approval.

Ukraine says Russia is sending truckloads of fighters and high-tech weapons across the porous frontier, and the rebels have shot down at least three military helicopters, most recently on Thursday.

 

OSCE monitors held

“Now we cannot yet verify the details of these reports, but we are concerned that this indicates separatists continue to have access to advanced weaponry and other assistance from the outside,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. He also said it was “unacceptable” the rebels had detained four international monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and called for them to be released “immediately”.

 

He spoke before the 57-state group revealed it had lost contact with a second team of four observers and their Ukrainian translator. Separatists in the city of Luhansk denied that their forces were holding them.

In Berlin, Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to continue talks on Monday about the price Kiev will pay Moscow for gas, and how it will cover outstanding bills.

Ukraine paid a small portion of the alleged €3.79 billion arrears yesterday, but refuses to match Russia’s asking price for future deliveries.