Ukraine truce creaks amid fresh disputes

Mar 19, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT
Ukrainian army members stand guard in the Peski town near Donetsk International Airport during the ceasefire, due to clashes with the Pro-Russian separatists has not been clearly finished, in Donetsk, Ukraine on December 18, 2015.
AFP/Getty Images

A peace plan to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine came under renewed strain on Wednesday, Reuters reports, with Ukraine and Russia clashing publicly over the next steps and further Ukrainian military casualties from rebel attacks testing a fragile ceasefire.

Moscow reacted sharply after Ukraine agreed on Tuesday to confer special status on rebel-controlled eastern regions and grant them limited self-rule - but only once local elections had been held under Ukrainian law, something unpalatable for rebel leaders who have proclaimed their own "people's republics".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Ukrainian parliament had sought to "re-write" the agreement reached in Minsk, Belarus, last month. The Kremlin said the Minsk deal was now further away from being realized than it was a few days ago.

In Kiev, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk responded that no one on the Ukrainian side had much optimism that Russia "and the terrorists" would readily fulfill the Minsk plan.

"First and foremost: to comply with the Minsk agreements, the Russian bandits must clear out of the territory of Ukraine and give the possibility to Ukraine of carrying out honest and transparent elections in line with international standards," he said in televised comments at a government meeting.

The dispute, which could lead the deal into a dead-end, highlighted the different strategies toward the issue of self-rule in the east.

On the anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged the harm caused by Western sanctions, reports the BBC.

He said the measures, imposed on individuals and key economic sectors, were "not fatal, but naturally damage our ongoing work," Interfax reported.

Thousands of Russians gathered for celebrations outside the Kremlin. The future of the sanctions is set to be discussed by EU leaders this week. European Council President Donald Tusk will push for the measures to be linked explicitly to full implementation of the Ukraine ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk, Belarus, last month, a senior E.U. official has told the BBC.

Tusk wants the sanctions maintained until the end of the year, when Ukraine is supposed to regain control of its eastern border from pro-Russian rebels under the truce conditions.