Ukraine presses offensive with US support
Ukrainian tanks and fighter bombers have resumed their assault on pro-Russian insurgents after Kiev’s Western-backed leader brushed off a last-gasp European effort to save a tenuous 10-day truce.
The return of all-out fighting in Europe’s worst security crisis in nearly two decades drew the instant wrath of Russian President Vladimir Putin and set off a new international scramble to regain some control over events in the strategic ex-Soviet state.
Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko told the crisis-hit nation in a dramatic midnight address that the ceasefire had been used by the militias to regroup and stock up on heavy arms from Russia.
“Peace has been and will remain my main goal. Only the means to achieve it have changed,” the 48-year-old president said.
Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky said a “massive artillery and air offensive” had been unleashed in the eastern rustbelt – home to seven million mostly Russian speakers who view the new Kiev leaders with mistrust.
Russia immediately expressed its “deep regret” while France’s foreign minister vowed there would be no letup in Western efforts to find a lasting solution to nearly three months of clashes that have claimed more than 450 lives.
Putin said Poroshenko was assuming responsibility for future casualties and gathered his top security aides to discuss the “swiftly deteriorating” situation in his western neighbour.
Both separatist fighters and pro-Kiev leaders reported heavy exchanges of artillery fire and air bombardments across the rebel stronghold Russian border regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
The regional administration of Donetsk said four civilians were killed and five wounded when their bus came under fire near the town of Kramatorsk.
Poroshenko’s decision to resume the conflict came just hours after the leaders of France and Germany joined him on a conference call to Putin.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were in rare agreement with Putin that Poroshenko should extend the truce to give indirect talks between separatist commanders and Kiev a chance.
But the dialogue failed to end clashes that have displaced tens of thousands and shuttered dozens of coal mines and steel mills whose operation is vital to Ukraine’s teetering economy.
Poroshenko told the three leaders that insurgents had attacked Ukrainian positions more than 100 times during the truce.
The separatists likewise accuse government forces of having continued to shell the dozen cities and towns under their control during the official halt of hostilities.
Both Kiev and its Western allies have accused Putin of helping to arm and fund the separatists in reprisal for the February ouster of a Kremlin-backed leader who had rejected closer European ties.
The Kremlin denies all charges but still faces the threat of devastating sanctions against Russia’s financial and energy sectors should Putin fail to demonstrate a clear desire to resolve the conflict.