Ukraine govt warns of ‘great war’ with Russia
KIEV/MOSCOW : Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia on Monday of “direct and undisguised aggression” which he said had radically changed the battlefield balance as Kiev’s forces suffered a further reverse in their war with pro-Moscow separatists.
Ukraine’s defense minister also warned that a “great war” had broken out with Russia over his country’s future that could claim tens of thousands of lives.
“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II. Unfortunately, the losses in such a war will be measured not in the hundreds but thousands and tens of thousands,” Valeriy Geletey wrote in a Facebook post.
Russia on Monday again denied either sending or planning to send troops into eastern Ukraine to help separatist rebels pursue their recent counteroffensive against the pro-Western government’s forces.
But insurgency leaders have admitted that some off-duty Russian soldiers had already joined their ranks.
NATO has also accused the Kremlin of advancing more than a 1,000 soldiers and heavy weapons across the Ukrainian border in recent days.
Geletey wrote on Monday that “hundreds of Russian soldiers and officers have permanently entered Ukraine’s (eastern) ‘black earth’ region.”
But he stressed that “Ukraine has no plans to surrender” and compared the conflict to the “Great Patriotic War,” the name former Soviet nations use for their fight against Nazi Germany in World War II.
In the latest in a string of setbacks in the past week, Ukraine’s military said it had pulled back from defending a vital airport in the east of the country, near the city of Luhansk, where troops had been battling a Russian tank battalion.
Poroshenko said in a speech there would be high-level personnel changes in the Ukrainian armed forces, whose troops fled a new rebel advance in the south which Kiev and its Western allies say has been backed up by Russian armoured columns.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on Sunday for immediate negotiations on the “statehood” of southern and eastern Ukraine, blamed Kiev’s leadership for refusing to enter into direct political talks with the separatists.
European Union leaders decided at a summit on Saturday that the direct engagement of Russian troops in the war, still denied by the Kremlin, called for a stepping up of economic sanctions unless Moscow pulled its soldiers back.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing that accepting Russia’s behaviour was not an option, EU ambassadors were to start discussing a new package of measures that could include a ban on Europeans buying Russian government bonds, EU sources said.
Until last week Ukraine had appeared close to crushing the four-month rebellion in the east, which erupted after a pro-Moscow president was forced out of power by popular protests. But then the rebels opened a new front to the south on the coast of the Sea of Azov, pushing towards the city of Mariupol.
Poroshenko repeated Kiev’s belief that Russian forces are helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war. “Direct and undisguised aggression has been launched against Ukraine from a neighboring state. This has changed the situation in the zone of conflict in a radical way,” he said at a military academy speech in Kiev.
Defence Minister Valery Heletey added on his Facebook page that Ukraine no longer faced a threat from separatists but outright war with Russian troops.
“Unfortunately, in such a war, the losses will be numbered not in their hundreds, but in thousands, even tens of thousands,” he said. “We must refrain from panic and show that Ukrainians are not about to surrender.”