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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 27, 2015
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What Ceasefire?
February 27, 2015   
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Ignoring a ceasefire agreement negotiated in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, Russian-backed separatists have intensified military operations in eastern Ukraine and forces controlled by the self-proclaimed Peoples’ Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have captured the strategic town of Debaltsevo.

Whoever had any illusions as to Vladimir Putin’s real intentions should have none left after what happened in Debaltsevo. After the ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk Feb. 12, the separatists launched an even fiercer assault on Debaltsevo, a major railway and road transport hub located between Donetsk and Luhansk. Fighting did not stop after the ceasefire was supposed to come into force Feb. 15. Ukrainian forces in Debaltsevo came under siege and the separatists marched into the town Feb. 17, taking the local train station. The Ukrainians pulled out under heavy fire. According to witnesses and reporters, parts of Debaltsevo were razed to the ground after being targeted by Grad missiles. The separatists barred OECD observers from entering the town.

The Russian president openly urged Ukrainian troops in Debaltsevo to surrender. The authorities in Kiev officially admitted losing control over the area, while according to Russian sources, entire Ukrainian army units had surrendered. The day before, Putin had flown to Budapest after an invitation from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is clearly refusing to toe the EU line of isolating Russia. While in Budapest, Putin said everything was now up to the Ukrainian troops, suggesting that they should put down their weapons.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone, demanding a firm response from the West, and then had a long conversation with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. The U.N. Security Council called on the Ukrainians and separatists to immediately stop the fighting, but the chances of that happening are slim. At the same time, Putin claimed during a joint press conference with Orban that fighting had abated considerably. He added that long-lasting peace was within reach, provided Kiev carries out “necessary constitutional reforms.” In other words, Ukraine would have to grant autonomy to the rebel provinces in the east of the country.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, accused the Russian-backed separatists of “a clear violation of the ceasefire” in Debaltsevo. Mogherini added the EU would take “appropriate steps” should the fighting continue. The only question is what such steps could be, seeing how the EU’s principal member states, Germany and France, have done their best not to rattle Moscow’s cage and have employed only minor sanctions. These have so far failed to keep Putin from unleashing a large military operation in eastern Ukraine.

The situation in the Debaltsevo area has stirred heated debate in Poland as well. Some politicians, such as former defense minister Romuald Szeremietiew, are openly warning of a possible Russian attack on Poland, and have called on the government to improve the Polish army’s combat capabilities. Others, including former deputy foreign minister Paweł Kowal, are urging Poland to start selling weapons and military equipment to Ukraine as soon as possible.
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