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Ukraine’s president appealed to Western leaders for political, economic and military support against Russian-backed rebels

By Tajuddin
Feb 7th, 2015
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Munich ( AP + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Ukraine’s beleaguered president appealed to Western leaders in Munich on Saturday for political, economic and military support against Russian-backed rebels, but Germany and the United States appeared divided over whether providing arms to Kiev would deter the separatists and keep Russian President Vladimir Putin at bay.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, freshly back from talks in Moscow with Putin and French President Francois Hollande to fashion another cease-fire deal, expressed doubts over any quick resolution to the crisis.

Merkel and Hollande plan to discuss the latest proposal, which includes a broad demilitarized zone and greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine, in a phone call Sunday with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

However, Merkel said the experience of agreements being violated on the ground has been “disillusioning.” Asked whether there are any guarantees a new agreement won’t suffer the same fate, she replied “there are no theoretical guarantees.”

Hollande, speaking in France on Saturday, called the current talks a last chance: “Because if we are not able to reach, not a compromise but a durable peace accord, we perfectly know the scenario: it has one name, it is called war.”

The latest talks are aimed at salvaging the so-called Minsk agreement reached in September in Belarus for a tentative ceasefire to end fighting in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Russian-backed rebels.

A pro-Russian rebels walk past a destroyed building in the town of Vuhlehirsk, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015.  AP

A pro-Russian rebels walk past a destroyed building in the town of Vuhlehirsk, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 6, 2015. AP

That deal also featured a demilitarized zone, but battle lines have since changed because clashes have continued almost without pause, especially in recent weeks.

Five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 26 wounded in fighting over the past day, Ukrainian security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said Saturday. The government website in the port city of Mariupol said one man was killed in shelling of the outlying settlement of Gnutove, which it blamed on rebels.

More than 5,300 people have been killed since clashes began in April, according to a U.N. tally.

The Ukrainian president made an emotional appeal for Western help, including military assistance. Holding up the red passports of Russian soldiers he said had been found on Ukrainian territory, Petroshenko called them the “best evidence” for the presence of foreign troops in his country.

“The Ukrainian question will remain unsolved as long as … the people and politicians in Europe and the whole world don’t provide solid practical support for Ukrainians’ independence — politically, economically but also militarily,” Poroshenko said.

“We are an independent nation and we have a right to defend our people,” he added. “Over the course of the offensive we have proved to be responsible and we will not use the defensive equipment for attack.”

Russia has denied that it has sent troops and armaments to eastern Ukraine.

President Obama this week raised the prospect, for the first time, of providing Ukraine at least with defensive weapons, but Merkel, citing her talks with Putin, said Saturday that providing Kiev with more arms would not work.

“The problem is that I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily,” Merkel said. “I have to put it that bluntly.”

“This conflict cannot be resolved by military means,” Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference. “It is all the more important now to set out substantial steps that serve to fill with life the Minsk agreement.”

Vice President Joe Biden, also in Munich, stopped short of explicitly addressing possible arms deliveries. “We will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself,” he said, adding Washington doesn’t believe there is a military solution in Ukraine.

He said the diplomatic efforts were “very much worth the attempt,” adding, “But we must judge the existing agreement in Minsk and any future agreement with Russia by the actions Russia takes on the ground, not by the paper they signed.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he “sincerely” hopes the latest diplomatic drive “will produce results, and those results will be supported by the parties to this conflict.”

Lavrov denounced “growing appeals in the West to … pump Ukraine full with lethal weapons and to involve it in NATO.” He said that “this position will only exacerbate the tragedy of Ukraine.”

As soon as Kiev and eastern Ukrainian separatists agree on practical details of implementing the Minsk deal, “I am sure that Russia will be among those parties that will guarantee the implementation of this agreement,” Lavrov told the conference. “But you can only guarantee what has already been achieved.”

Speaking in the resort city of Sochi on Saturday, Putin said, “We don’t intend to war with anyone. We intend to cooperate with all.”

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