bne IntelliNews -
A ceasefire agreed between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine has been largely observed after coming into force on February 15, except around the heavily fought-over town of Debaltseve, where Ukrainian forces are encircled by the rebels. Both sides claim control over the strategically important town.
"The ceasefire has been holding in the first 12 hours, with some exceptions, notably in Debaltseve, Raihorodka and Lugansk city,” Ertugrul Apakan, chief of a monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), told a press briefing in Kyiv.
The situation around Debaltseve now threatens to undermine the new peace deal for Ukraine, meaning relations between Russia and the West may remain at their worst level since the end of the Cold War.
A Ukrainian army spokesman said that the rebels had fired on Ukrainian positions over 60 times on February 15, the first day of the ceasefire, mostly around Debaltseve. News reports cited continuing artillery fire around the strategic road and rail hub.
“Of course we can open fire [on Debaltseve], it is our territory,” Reuters quoted Eduard Basurin, a senior rebel commander, as saying on February 15.
Rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko said at a briefing that Kyiv had “betrayed” around 5300 Ukranian servicemen stationed in Debaltseve, which he claimed rebels had surrounded. “The Minsk agreement doesn’t say a word about Debaltseve,” Interfax quoted Zakharchenko as saying on February 15.
In earlier statements Zakharchenko said rebels would regard any attempt by Ukrainian forces to break out of Debaltseve as a breach of the ceasefire.
US Ambassador in Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted what he said were satellite images showing Russian army air defense systems and other rocket systems deployed around Debaltseve.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned the army general staff on February 14, hours before the ceasefire was due to start, that the situation around Debaltseve could endanger the planned ceasefire. "This process is in jeopardy because of actions by militants near the town of Debaltseve. This is what I've warned about," he said, as quoted by Interfax.
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