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Ukrainian government forces attacked pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine Tuesday, shortly after President Petro Poroshenko ended a 10-day cease-fire that failed to calm violence in the restive region.
The resumption of what the government calls an antiterrorism operation will intensify fighting in the east. It also raises uncertainty over how Moscow – which officially supported the cease-fire, while also massing troops along the Ukrainian border – will respond. Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to make a foreign policy speech later Tuesday.
“A unique chance for a peace plan failed because of the criminal acts of militants,” Mr. Poroshenko said on a statement on his website today, Bloomberg reports. “We will attack and we will free our land. The protection of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the safety of its people require not only defense, but also attack.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky told Interfax news agency that the “ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation)” was launched after the president’s speech announcing the end of the cease-fire.
“We opened artillery fire, carried out air strikes at the strategic points of the terrorists and places where they are concentrated,” Mr. Dmytrashkovsky said, according to Reuters.
Dmytrashkovsky said rebels had fired on an SU-25 attack aircraft, damaging it, but the plane had managed to land safely at its air base. He denied a rebel report that a military helicopter had been brought down.
One Ukrainian serviceman had been killed and 17 wounded in the past 24 hours in rebel attacks on Ukrainian posts, he said.
The defense ministry confirmed that Ukrainian forces had launched attacks on the rebels "from the air and land."
The resumption of a military campaign comes after two telephone conferences in the past two days between Poroshenko, Mr. Putin, and the leaders of France and Germany that "raised hopes the truce would be renewed," the BBC notes. ' "But Mr Poroshenko said in his address: 'The decision not ton continue the ceasefire is our answer to terrorists, militants and marauders.' "
Poroshenko was also under pressure from protesters at home in Kiev, who urged the president to resume a military operation against separatists in the east.
The Russian foreign ministry today said it regretted the decision to end the cease-fire, and “condemned what it called ‘criminal’ calls to crack down on the separatists,” BBC reports.
European Union officials are scheduled to meet later Tuesday in Brussels to weigh new sanctions on Russia, which Western leaders accuse of directing, or at least fostering support, for rebel separatists in Ukraine.
The head of the German parliament’s committee on foreign affairs, Norbert Roettgen, told German radio Deutschlandfunk that the EU should extend sanctions against Russia today.
“The European Union must and will stand by its word, otherwise it will lose credibility and no longer be able to do anything toward de-escalation and stability,” Mr. Roettgen said, according to Bloomberg.
Sara Miller Llana, The Christian Science Monitor’s Paris bureau chief pointed out recently that, even with the signing of a trade pact between the European Union and Ukraine last Friday, “it’s still unclear how far Europe – and more specifically Ms. Merkel’s Germany – is willing to back Ukraine’s long-term Western shift.”
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March shook the West, but it thrust Germany into a full-blown identity crisis. While many in Europe have hesitated on sanctions, mostly out of fear of economic repercussion, Germany has also wavered as it contemplates a resurgent Russia and where it fits in the global order.
Ms. Merkel, who speaks Russian and grew up in repressive, communist East Berlin, has not minced words with Russian President Vladmir Putin, condemning his actions in Crimea. She and Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have stood with Ukraine and threatened sanctions in tandem with the EU and US.
But guided by history and reflex, as well as public opinion, German officials are still maneuvering for a way to keep channels open, to prevent backing Mr. Putin into a corner: a tactic some call enlightened, but others condemn as cowardly. A potent mix of guilt, of disappointment with the US, and a very real belief that Germans simply know how to deal with Russia better than the rest of the West, has left a question mark over which position Germany will ultimately take with Russia. “The real test has not been made yet by Germany,” says Karl Schlögel, a German historian of eastern Europe.
Russia has warned that the trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU – which provided the original spark for the Ukraine crisis after former President Viktor Yanukovych rejected it last year – could lead to “serious consequences,” the Monitor reports:
Signing the EU deal is Ukraine's sovereign right, President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Friday. But "the Russian side will take measures if the implementation of these agreements will have negative consequences on the Russian markets."
Russia is Ukraine's single biggest trading partner, and Russia is the destination for about a quarter of its exports. Some of Ukraine's produce might find alternative markets under the expanded duty-free access offered by the new association deal. But much of Ukraine's heavy industry, especially the mainly eastern-Ukrainian factories producing heavy machinery, rolling stock, and military hardware, may be hard hit if Russia raises tariff walls.
Another factor for Ukraine to consider is how the military will fund and replace equipment that separatists have damaged. Rebels have brought down costly Ukrainian helicopters and planes with Russian-made surface-to-air rockets, The Wall Street Journal reports.