Tensions In Ukraine As Truce Deadline Passes
A ceasefire deadline has passed in Ukraine – but both sides are accusing each other of violating the deal.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko ordered government forces to stop firing at 10pm UK time on Saturday, under a plan agreed in Belarus this week.
“I give now the order to the armed forces of Ukraine… to cease fire at 00:00 hours on February 15,” he said, while sitting alongside armed forces chief of staff Viktor Muzhenko.
“I very much hope that the last chance to begin the long and difficult peaceful process for a political settlement will not be wasted.”
The military said Ukrainian armed forces immediately fulfilled Mr Poroshenko’s order and guns fell silent in Donetsk and some other parts of the country’s east.
Under the peace agreement, both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels were to hold their fire, before pulling back their heavy weaponry to form a wide buffer zone.
There were reports of continued fighting and movement of military vehicles right up to the deadline, and after it had passed government forces and rebels said there were violations in the first few hours.
A Ukraine military spokesman has said rebels shelled its positions 10 times after the truce began, but that the ceasefire is being observed “in general”.
Mr Poroshenko admitted there was “alarm” over the situation around the key transport hub of Debaltseve, where government forces have been hard pressed by Russian-backed separatists.
During the day on Saturday, intense fighting continued around the strategic government-held area.
Earlier in the week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were besieged by separatists around the town and would have to lay down their weapons before the ceasefire started.
Rebels told the Associated Press news agency they will not consider any battles for the town to be a violation of the ceasefire.
The intensity of the fighting around Debaltseve and elsewhere raises doubts about whether the ceasefire will hold .
The White House said President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday and expressed concern about the violence.
The French presidency said Mr Putin reaffirmed in a phone call with his French and German counterparts on Saturday that the ceasefire must be respected.
Mrs Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Mr Putin all confirmed “the need for the ceasefire scheduled for midnight to be effective”, the Elysee Palace said.
“Putin said the rebels were ready for the ceasefire,” it added.
The statement also said the three leaders will speak by phone with Mr Poroshenko on Sunday to take stock of the ceasefire.