Ukraine’s new Western-backed president on Friday declared a week-long unilateral ceasefire and unveiled a sweeping plan for curbing a pro-Russian insurgency that killed 13 more soldiers in fierce clashes in the eastern rustbelt.
“Today, on June 20, the ceasefire should begin. It will last through June 27,” Petro Poroshenko told local residents in a small village that served as a popular lakeside resort before Kiev unleashed a full-scale “anti-terror” campaign on April 13.
The military operation’s official spokesman said that Ukrainian forces would formally halt fire at 1900 GMT.
But a senior rebel commander immediately rejected the terms of Poroshenko’s plan for ending unceasing battles that have killed more than 375 people and left the ex-Soviet country on the verge of splitting in two.
“No one will lay down their arms until a full troop withdrawal from our land,” said Valeriy Bolotov of the self-declared Lugansk People’s Republic.
A Ukranian national security spokesman reported that the latest battles had claimed the lives of 13 soldiers — a toll underscoring the uptick in violence witnessed in the past week.
The sense that tensions on the ground were rising was reinforced when Washington followed up similar charges from NATO by accusing the Kremlin of stirring up new trouble along its neighbour’s western frontier.
A senior US administration official said Russia had deployed “significant” military forces near Ukraine “to provide active support for separatist fighters”.
The US official said the troops were “the closest they have been (to the border) since the invasion of Crimea” in March.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman had earlier confirmed deploying some units to “reinforce the protection of the Russian border”.
Russia on Friday demanded an apology from Kiev over the “shooting” of a border post from Ukrainian territory that led to the wounding of a customs official, the Kremlin said.
“The Russian side is waiting for an explanation and an apology in connection with this,” the Kremlin press office said according to Russian agencies.
Russian investigators said earlier today they were probing the alleged shooting in the Dolzhansky border area close to where Ukrainian forces had been battling rebel fighters.