MOSCOW — In a stern warning that cited civilian casualties in war-torn eastern Ukraine, Russia on Wednesday demanded that the Ukrainian government reinstate a cease-fire and halt its military operation aimed at suppressing the pro-Russian separatist insurrection that has laid siege to the region for more than three months.
“Again we resolutely demand that the Ukrainian authorities — provided they are still able to evaluate sensibly the consequences of the criminal policy they conduct — to stop shelling peaceful cities and villages in their own country, to return to a real cease-fire in order to save human lives,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The statement went on to accuse the government of President Petro Poroshenko of the “physical annihilation of citizens of their own country” and, citing the evacuation of an orphanage in the Luhansk region, said, “the Ukrainian authorities do not even care about the fate of small children.”
Even in the context of the deeply embittered relations between the Kremlin and the government in Kiev, the Russian statement was unusually harsh and signaled blistering outrage in Moscow about the renewed military effort to end the rebellion.
Seeking to calm the situation and put peace negotiations back on track, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany met Wednesday afternoon in Berlin but seemed to make little progress, saying a “contact group” that met twice last week in Donetsk would try again by Saturday, “with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed, sustainable cease-fire” that would be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The contact group, led by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, held two sessions. At the first, some rebel leaders had agreed to adhere to Mr. Poroshenko’s cease-fire. The second session yielded nothing.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was careful to say the agreement was “a step in the right direction” while his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, noted that it “is not the magic cure, which solves all problems overnight.”
In the 25 minutes that the four men spoke with reporters at the Berlin Foreign Ministry, there was no mention of where the contact group would meet.
There was also no mention of what steps, such as increased economic sanctions against Russia, might follow if this latest diplomacy should fail.
Fighting continued Wednesday across eastern Ukraine, including reports of an intense overnight battle near the Novoazovsk border crossing with Russia. Alexiy Dmitrasahkovsky, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation, said one soldier had been killed and 25 wounded since the resumption of full-scale fighting Tuesday.
Other Ukrainian officials have said hundreds of rebels were killed, but casualty figures are regularly disputed, and the government’s tally was impossible to verify. Mr. Dmitrasahkovsky in a phone interview declined to comment on the number of rebels killed, captured or surrendered.
Despite the cease-fire, fighting had never truly stopped, and that had contributed to the public anger against Mr. Poroshenko, who campaigned for office vowing to put a swift end to the insurrection.Russia - Eastern Europe - Europe - Laurent Fabius - Ukraine - Kiev - Ukraine government - Donetsk - Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Leonid Kuchma