Aug. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Ukraine’s military demanded that pro-Russian rebels surrender and dismissed their offer of a cease-fire, as government troops pushed ahead with a campaign to defeat the uprising in the country’s east.
“If there is an initiative, it should be implemented by practical means, not only with words -- by raising white flags and putting down weapons,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the country’s military, told reporters in Kiev today. “In that case no one will shoot at them.”
Ukraine is trying to dislodge separatists from their strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk as Russia raises the pressure on its western neighbor to halt the campaign and allow immediate assistance. President Vladimir Putin, who’s been blamed by Ukraine and its U.S. and European allies of stoking the conflict, has said that the fighting is creating a humanitarian disaster and offered to provide aid.
A rebel leader broached the possibility of a truce yesterday, saying in a statement that militants will continue fighting if the government doesn’t end its offensive. The Defense Ministry in Kiev said the army continued to tighten its encirclement around Donetsk, the biggest city in the conflict zone.
Luhansk hasn’t had power, water or phone service for eight days, according to local authorities. Donetsk came under bombardment at about 4 a.m. after volleys of gunfire and artillery sounded through the night, the city council said.
“A cease-fire isn’t only possible; it’s urgently needed,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Sochi today. “Hospitals can’t function, there’s not enough medications. That amounts to the most severe humanitarian situation.”
As of noon local time, the atmosphere was “extremely tense” in Donetsk, a city of 1 million people before the conflict flared in mid-April, the local council said in a statement, adding that shells were heard hitting most areas. More than 10,000 residents remained without electricity as of 5:30 p.m. after 40 power substations were damaged by artillery, it said.
Russia is negotiating with Ukraine, the Red Cross and humanitarian organizations run by the United Nations about providing urgent assistance, according to Lavrov. “I’m certain we’ll be able to agree on delivering this aid as soon as possible to those who need it most,” he said.
Valeriy Chaly, deputy chief of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s administration, said a column of Russian soldiers and army equipment stopped before crossing the two countries’ border after leaders asked the U.S., Russia and the Red Cross to intervene. Chaly, in a statement yesterday on Poroshenko’s website, called the dispatching of the convoy a “very serious provocation.” The Kremlin denied the claim.
Ukrainian officials and their allies had predicted Putin would cloak an incursion of Russian troops into those areas as a peacekeeping effort.
“That’s not right,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. “There were no attempts made to penetrate” Ukrainian territory “by Russian forces. That’s why we find it difficult to understand what was meant by the Ukrainian side.”
The prospect of a Kremlin intervention spurred a flurry of phone conversations among world leaders yesterday, including Ukrainian allies who have imposed successive rounds of economic sanctions against Russia in a bid to force Putin to de-escalate tensions. The insurrection in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March and three months of deadly anti-government street protests.
U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “agreed that any Russian interventionin Ukraine, even under purported ‘humanitarian’ auspices, without the formal, express consent and authorization of the government of Ukraine is unacceptable, violates international law,and will provoke additional consequences,” according to a White House statement yesterday.
Merkel and Poroshenko also discussed the matter, according to the Ukrainian president’s website. Poroshenko said Ukraine would accept humanitarian aid only if it didn’t include military convoys, goes through official border checkpoints and is guarded by his country’s troops.
Merkel, according to the website, said Germany’s “stance is clear -- any invasion, even if it is being called humanitarian, is invasion, and this is a red line, which any country is not allowed to cross.”
The militants are “in panic” as government troops tighten their encirclement of insurgents around Donetsk, Leonid Matyukhin, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said in a statement on Facebook. The army inflicted losses and destroyed vehicles by firing on rebel bases, while insurgents struck back by attacking Ukrainian checkpoints, with artillery fire hitting Ukraine from Russia, he said.
Ukraine has brought its military blockade of Donetsk to a “maximum” degree during the past 24 hours, Lysenko, the military spokesman, said today. The country’s border posts and villages have continued to come under fire from Russia, he said, adding that drones and two of its neighbor’s helicopters entered Ukraine’s air space.
As Ukraine tangled with Russia over the military standoff, the government in Kiev also threatened to block oil and gas supplies shipped by its neighbor to Europe.
Ukraine, which no longer receives gas from Russia but acts as a conduit for its neighbor’s European shipments, is considering a “complete or partial ban on the transit of all resources” across its territory as part of new sanctions against Russia, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on Aug. 8 in Kiev. It may also ban Russian planes from its airspace and cut defense-industry cooperation.
Russia has responded to the sanctions against it by banning food imports from Ukraine, the U.S., the European Union and other countries.
If new sanctions against Russia are approved, “we will retaliate,” Putin spokesman Peskov said.
Ukrainian lawmakers will vote Aug. 12 on the sanctions bill, which the cabinet has approved.