A member of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass"
rides on a pick-up truck during a patrol. Photo by Reuters
Pro-Russian separatists say they are ready for a
ceasefire with the Kiev government after increasing gains by
Ukrainian forces against rebel forces.
"We are ready for a ceasefire to prevent the proliferation of
a humanitarian disaster in Donbass," Alexander Zakharchenko,
prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk people's
republic said in a statement on Saturday (local time),
referring to the area of eastern Ukraine where combat is
He warned that Donetsk, the main industrial hub which is the
centre of the rebel resistance, faced a lack of food, water,
and electricity, but said the rebels were ready to defend the
city of around one million people.
"In the event of a storm of the city the number of victims
will increase by magnitude. We have no humanitarian
corridors. There is no supply of medicines ... food supplies
are nearing their end," he said.
Ukrainian officials have said they are ready to agree a
ceasefire but on condition the rebels surrender their arms.
The office of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was
unavailable for immediate comment on Zakharchenko's
Earlier, Kiev said it had headed off an attempt by Russia to
send troops into Ukraine under the guise of peacekeepers with
the aim of provoking a large-scale military conflict, a
statement Moscow dismissed as a "fairy tale".
Ukraine has made several similar statements about Russian
aggression during months of conflict with separatists on its
eastern border with Russia that it says are backed by Moscow,
none of which have been independently verifiable.
Ukraine says it has been gradually tightening the noose
around the rebels who are have now been pushed back into
their redoubts of Donetsk and Luhansk on the border.
RUSSIA SLAMS CLAIMS
A senior aide to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said a
large Russian military convoy had been heading for the border
on Friday under a supposed agreement with the Red Cross, but
had stopped after an appeal by Kiev to Russia.
It was not immediately clear what convoy Poroshenko's aide
was referring to.
Russia's Defence Ministry said on Friday it had finished
military exercises in southern Russia, near the Ukrainian
border, which the United States had criticised as
"A huge military convoy accompanied by Russian soldiers and
equipment was moving towards the Ukrainian border, allegedly
by agreement with the Red Cross," said Valery Chaly, deputy
head of Poroshenko's administration.
No one at the Red Cross was immediately available to comment.
"A humanitarian column with 'peacekeepers' was to enter the
territory of Ukraine, clearly to provoke a full-scale
conflict," he said, according to Ukraine's presidential press
Chaly said Poroshenko held urgent talks with his security
chiefs and world leaders, though he did not specify which
Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said separately he had called
his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov who had assured him the
convoy would be stopped.
"As of now, the danger of provocation has been removed, but
operational staff continue to work," Chaly said.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign
Ministry, dismissed Chaly's statement as untrue.
"Each time Kiev is more and more inventive in creating fairy
tales," she said, noting special protocols had to be
completed before Russian troops could be sent abroad.
"The (Ukrainian) National Guard probably have to report about
their achievements in the field, so they pretended they have
some," she said.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir
Putin, said by phone: "We don't know what (the Ukrainians)
are talking about because nothing like that happened."
Ukraine and the West see a growing danger of a Russian
invasion under the guise of a peacekeeping mission. Kiev says
any such mission would be perceived as direct aggression.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President
Barack Obama said on Saturday tougher sanctions should be
imposed on Russia if it sends troops into Ukraine.
"Both agreed that the international community should impose
further, tougher sanctions if Russia pursues such action,"
the statement from the British Prime Minister's office read.
The head of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called this week on
Russia to pull its troops back from the Ukrainian border and
warned further intervention would mean greater isolation from
the rest of the world.
The head of the U.S.-led alliance said Russia had massed
about 20,000 troops near Ukrainian border, very close to the
regions where Ukrainian government forces are fighting
Ukrainian officials say that frequent Russian military
exercises near the border complicated the situation. On
Saturday a Ukrainian military spokesman said the move was not
a "stage in de-escalation of the situation near the border".
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of orchestrating
the revolt and arming the rebels, who have declared
independent "people's republics" in the two main industrial
regions. Moscow denies involvement.