KIEV (Reuters) - Fresh clashes between Ukrainian troops and separatists clouded prospects of a lasting ceasefire emerging from a “Day of Silence” in Ukraine on Wednesday as Kiev ruled out any new peace talks until the rebels had stopped firing completely.
Despite an early report that separatist shelling had significantly reduced during a truce on Tuesday, Kiev’s military said that by mid-afternoon on Wednesday a separatist sabotage group had clashed with government troops, losing men, while rebels had also carried out attacks with heavy weapons.
Leonid Kuchma, a former president, scotched notions of a fresh meeting this week of the Contact Group comprising Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatist leaders, which in September agreed a ceasefire only for it to be immediately and then continually flouted.
“In these conditions, when there is one side that is not observing a ceasefire regime, I do not consider a meeting viable,” Kuchma was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.
Referring to the “Day of Silence”, which the Kiev military said was punctured by some separatist shelling of government positions at the airport of Donetsk, Kuchma said: “Let them show they (the separatists) really want peace and not war, that they fully have control of their armed formations.
“The Ukrainian side will be ready for the next meeting (only) when there is a full ceasefire.”
Separatist leaders had no immediate comment on reports of renewed military action by their forces. They have previously leveled similar accusations of ceasefire violations against government forces.
The conflict in which 4,300 people have been killed began after Ukraine’s Russian-backed president was toppled by street protests in February.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and threw its support to separatists in the east, driving relations between Moscow and the West to the lowest point since the Cold War.
A fully-supported truce in Ukraine’s industrial east where the separatists have declared “people’s republics”, could have helped pave the way to a new round of peace talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk this week.
At talks there last September under Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) auspices, the sides forged a 12-point peace blueprint including an immediate truce. But the guns never fell silent and hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, civilians and separatists have been killed since.
Kiev has accused Russia of breaching the Minsk pact by failing to pull fighters and military equipment out of the east. Russia denies having any forces in Ukraine.
Separatist leaders had planned to hold talks by video-link on Wednesday among the contact group members but subsequently canceled their plans.
Earlier, Kiev’s military had been strikingly positive in assessing the “Day of Silence”, saying that for the first time none of its soldiers had been killed or wounded in the previous 24 hours.
Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; editing by Ralph Boulton