Ukraine's government kept up military pressure against
pro-Russian rebels, threatening them with an "nasty surprise",
while the militants said they were preparing to fight back
after losing their main stronghold.
President Petro Poroshenko, drawing confidence from the fall
of the rebel bastion of Slaviansk at the weekend, named a new
chief of military operations in the east following his
appointment of an aggressive new defence minister who again
demanded the separatists lay down their arms.
A security official said the government's plan to clear
rebels from the two big towns of Donetsk and Luhansk would
come as an "nasty surprise" for the insurgents.
But Poroshenko - whose officials have ruled out any more
unilateral ceasefires - kept the door open to a further round
of indirect peace talks with separatist leaders, naming a
possible venue in a government-controlled monastery-town in
Meanwhile, signs emerged of a split in separatist ranks over
the fall of Slaviansk with a powerful field commander
critically questioning the pull-out from the rebel
The rebels' loss of Slaviansk marks a major breakthrough in
Kiev's three-month long fight against Russian backed
separatists who are now calling in vain for military help
One rebel leader played down its loss as a military expedient
and said the hundreds of fighters who were able to move from
the town to the regional capital Donetsk were preparing a
command structure to defend that city and hit back:
"We're not preparing ourselves for a siege. We are preparing
ourselves for action," Alexander Borodai, prime minister of
the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told a Russian
online newspaper during a visit to the Russian capital.
Sporadic shooting was heard from parts of Donetsk overnight.
In Luhansk, a city on the border with Russia where rebels
also control key buildings, two people in a minibus were
killed by a shell that exploded nearby, a municipal official
"There is an exchange of fire among the separatists. They are
shooting at each other," Iryna Verigina told a Ukrainian
television station by telephone from Luhansk.
Poroshenko, installed in office just a month ago, named Vasyl
Grytsak to head the "anti-terrorist centre", making him
operational chief in the drive to crush the rebels.
The move continued his shake-up of the military and security
leadership in which he has appointed a hardline defence
minister to bring fresh vigour to the fight against the
Grytsak, a 53-year-old police lieutenant-general and 20-year
veteran of the state security apparatus, replaces Vasyl
Krutov, who had headed the "anti-terrorist centre" since
Despite some successes against the rebels, Krutov and other
security officials have come under criticism for the patchy
performance of the armed forces and big military losses
including the downing by the rebels of an Ilyushin Il-76
plane in June with the deaths of more than 49 crew and
FOCUS ON DONETSK
Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting government forces since
April when they set up separatist republics in the
Russian-speaking east after political upheaval in Kiev led to
the ousting of a Moscow-backed president followed by Russia's
annexation of Crimea.
They have brought down military helicopters and ambushed
government forces on the ground in three months of fighting
in which more than 200 Ukrainian troops have been killed,
along with hundreds of civilians and rebels.
The fall of Slaviansk to government forces at the weekend has
now swung the focus onto Donetsk, raising the question of how
the Kiev military will go about breaking the resistance in a
sprawling industrial city with a population of over 900,000.
Security officials in Kiev gave away nothing about their
military plans. But a spokesman for the "anti-terrorist
operation", Andriy Lysenko, said: "There is a plan ... under
which we will be able to liberate these towns (Donetsk and
"We are not publicising details of this plan. It should be a
nasty surprise for the terrorists," he told journalists.
At a meeting on Monday with Poroshenko, Donetsk mayor
Olexander Lukyanchenko urged him not use air strikes or heavy
artillery to crush the rebels. Ukraine's richest man,
coal-and-steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov, made a similar appeal
"We have a population in the town now of more than 900,000
people minus those who have left. It's impossible to evacuate
them and there is nowhere for them to go. Their security must
be guaranteed via negotiations at all levels," said
Lukyanchenko, according to his website.
Since hundreds of rebels flooded into the city at the
weekend, armed men have been out on the streets, setting up
new barricades and checkpoints.
Borodai brushed off suggestions that Slaviansk had been a
defeat, portraying it as a successful tactical withdrawal,
though Kiev says the rebels sustained heavy losses.
Borodai, who also scoffed at talk of Kiev having resources to
blockade Donetsk and Luhansk, said Igor Strelkov, a Muscovite
who commanded forces in Slaviansk, would take over as
commander-in-chief for defending Donetsk.
But another rebel commander, Aleksander Khodakovsky of the
so-called Vostok battalion - or eastern battalion - whose
fighters also occupy positions in Donetsk was critical of the
decision to pull out of Slaviansk.
"Frankly speaking, we didn't believe them when we got phone
calls saying they were leaving Slaviansk," he told a small
group of journalists including Reuters.
"I hope Strelkov did not come here in order to go away," he
said. "There will not be one single commander here ...
because if Mr Strelkov suddenly chooses to leave Donetsk,
with the aim of preserving the lives of the people of Donetsk
and the lives of the volunteers, then we will not follow his
order," Khodakovsky said.
In the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the
Cold War, Moscow has denied accusations of fanning separatism
in Ukraine's east and allowing military equipment and
fighters to cross into Ukraine to support the separatists.
Though Borodai said he had been in "consultations" in Russia,
many rebels now reproach President Vladimir Putin's
administration in Moscow, which is under threat from further
Western sanctions, for giving them too little help.
The Ukrainian army's victory in Slaviansk has pushed peace
talks involving separatist leaders off the agenda.
But Donetsk's mayor, Lukyanchenko, said Poroshenko on Monday
had proposed that a further round of talks, involving the
so-called "contact group" and the separatists, should be held
in the town of Svyatohirsk, north-east of Donetsk, which is
the site of a 15th century Orthodox monastery.