KIEV/DONETSK (Reuters) – A mediator from Europe’s OSCE security body headed to eastern Ukraine yesterday seeking the surrender of pro-Russian separatists as the Kiev government declared an Easter truce following a peace accord with Moscow.
Gunmen occupying public buildings in Donetsk and other Russian-speaking border towns refuse to recognise an accord in Geneva on Thursday by which Russia, Ukraine and Kiev’s US and EU allies agreed that the OSCE should oversee the disarmament of militants and the evacuation of occupied facilities and streets.
The coming days may determine whether unrest following the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president can be contained.
Russia, which annexed Crimea last month in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, denies running the separatists or planning to invade. Western powers threatened more economic sanctions if Moscow does not prevail on the militants to surrender.
Ertogrul Apakan, who heads the special mission in Kiev of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said his deputy would be in Donetsk to meet separatist leaders by today to see if they will comply with the agreement.
After a meeting in the Ukrainian capital with diplomats from the four parties to the Geneva accord, Swiss envoy Christian Schoenenberger, whose country is chair of the OSCE, said its monitors had spoken to several activists: “For the time being the political will is not there to move out,” he said.
“That’s the task of the monitors, to create this political will, inform the people, so eventually they will understand that the best option for them is to move out,” he told reporters.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, who warned on Friday of “more concrete actions” to end the stand-off if there were no movement over the Easter weekend, said after the meeting that the senior OSCE officials and the local authorities in the east would “work out practical steps for the implementation of the Geneva agreement in the course of the next day or two.”
In Donetsk, separatist leaders renewed calls for a referendum that could see Ukraine’s industrial heartland annexed by Russia. A poll by an institute in Kiev, however, suggested a majority does not favour rule from Moscow, despite widespread suspicion among Russian-speakers of the new leadership in Kiev.
Ukraine’s government, short of effective forces, has shown little sign of trying to recapture the dozen or so town halls, police stations and other sites seized over the past two weeks, despite proclaiming the launch of an “anti-terrorist operation”.
The Foreign Ministry promised “the suspension of the active phase of the anti-terrorist operation” among a list of initiatives to defuse the crisis issued late on Friday.
The SBU state security service said the suspension was “linked to the implementation of the Geneva agreement and the Easter holidays.”
The government has explained its lack of visible action beyond setting up security checkpoints by a desire not to hurt civilians. That would risk provoking the intervention Russia has threatened if Russian blood is shed.
But lack of resources and training also helps explain the hesitation. Ukrainian troops lost half a dozen armoured vehicles to militants last week.