Posts Tagged President Petro Poroshenko

Kerry Visits Ukraine Amid Calls for U.S. to Provide Arms

KerryU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in snowbound Kiev on Thursday amid calls for Washington to begin arming Ukraine to battle Russian-backed separatists advancing in the east.

NATO says Russia has sent weapons, funds and troops on the ground to assist the rebel advance, which scuppered a five-month-old ceasefire in eastern Ukraine where war has already killed more than 5,000 people.

Moscow denies involvement in fighting for territory the Kremlin now calls “New Russia”.

Washington has given its clearest signal yet that it is considering providing weapons to Ukraine. President Barack Obama’s pick for defense secretary, Ashton Carter, told a Senate committee he would “very much incline” toward supplying arms to Ukraine.

“The nature of those arms, I can’t say right now,” Carter said at his Senate confirmation hearing. “But I incline in the direction of providing them with arms, including, to get to what I’m sure your question is, lethal arms.”

Asked about the risks of escalation, he said: “I think the economic and political pressure onRussia has to remain the main center of gravity of our effort in pushing back.”

Kerry’s visit is more about diplomatic support for now. U.S. officials said he would promise $16.4 million in humanitarian aid, barely a token gesture for a country that is in desperate need of billions in overseas financing to stave off the threat of bankruptcy, worsened by war.

Western advocates of arming Ukraine say it would help raise the costs for President Vladimir Putin of pursuing Russia’s objectives. Opponents worry about escalating a conflict that would see NATO and Russia actively aiding opposing sides in battle for the first time since the Cold War.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called unambiguously for NATO arms in an interview with a German newspaper.

“The escalation of the conflict that’s happening today, the increasing number of civilian casualties… should move the alliance to provide Ukraine with more support,” Poroshenko told Die Welt. “(That) includes, among other things, delivering modern weapons for protection and for resisting the aggressor.”

But some NATO members are opposed to sending weapons.

“This is not a solution that could involve the European Union or our country in the slightest,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a radio interview. The EU should maintain pressure through sanctions, not weapons, he said.

The rebels have been concentrating their advance on Debaltseve, a rail hub between their two main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, where a government garrison has held out despite being nearly encircled.

On Wednesday, the rebels appeared to have captured Vuhlehirsk, a nearby small town where government troops had also been holding out. The army said it was still contesting the town, but journalists who reached it saw no sign of areas under army control.

In Kiev, the military said on Thursday five more soldiers had been killed and 29 wounded in the past 24 hours. Troops had fended off two attempts to storm Debaltseve.

The war and years of endemic corruption have brought Ukraine to the verge of economic collapse and bankruptcy.

The central bank announced an sharp hike in interest rates on Thursday, boosting the key re-financing rate to 19.5 percent from 14 percent, to stave off the collapse of the hryvnia currency.

“There is still panic on the market, connected with ongoing fighting,” Central Bank governor Valeria Gontareva told a news conference.

 

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U.S. Imposes More Sanctions on Russia Controlled Crimea

CrimeaThe United States imposed sanctions Friday on Russian-controlled Crimea as Ukraine announced the loss of five soldiers ahead of peace talks meant to end a war against Russian-backed insurgents.

President Barack Obama prohibited American exports of goods or services to Crimea, a strategic peninsula and vacation destination that Russian seized from Ukraine last March.

“The United States will not accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” Obama said in a statement.

Similar measures were imposed Thursday by the European Union as the West attempted to ratchet up pressure on Moscow over its seizure of Crimea and support for a rebellion by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

Canada also added new sanctions Friday, targeting separatist leaders and the oil and gas sector in Russia, where the government is battling a currency crash and economic crisis.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that threatened US sanctions “could undermine the possibility of normal cooperation between our countries for a long time.”

The united Western pressure came as Ukraine and the rebels prepared for talks meant to put a stalled peace process back in motion.

However, Ukraine’s military reported losing five soldiers on Friday, the highest toll since Kiev and the Russian-backed militias struck a December 9 truce designed to reinforce a tenuous September agreement.

The next stage is meant to be comprehensive negotiations.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko hoped to start these on Sunday, with the help of European and Russian envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk. But a top rebel said the insurgents would only be ready by Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due this weekend to impress the importance of an immediate meeting during their third joint call to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko in the past few days.

The scale of the fighting has subsided with the onset of winter and heavy snows that make progress across the war-scarred fields and muddied roads all but impossible.

All sides are now busy looking for ways to ensure that millions of civilians who have been unable to flee the artillery shelling and rocket fire make it safely through the winter in apartments with little to no water or heat.

The United Nations believes the daily battles have killed more than 4,700 people and driven nearly a million from their homes.

Its children’s fund UNICEF said on Friday that “tens of thousands” of youth still lived in areas engulfed by violence.

“The situation for more than 1.7 million children affected by the conflict remains extremely serious,” the UN Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organisation said.

Any peace agreement is likely to include a requirement for fighters on both sides to let through humanitarian convoys they fear may be used to smuggle in weapons to their adversaries.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was essential for the Minsk negotiators to establish a buffer zone that sets the initial boundaries of areas overseen by the rebels within a unified Ukraine.

Steinmeier added after talks in Kiev with Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that the sides must also agree to swap their remaining prisoners and “resolve humanitarian relief issues”.

Although Russia is under growing financial pressure because of the sanctions and low oil prices, Ukraine’s situation is even more dire.

Standard & Poors lowered its credit rating for Ukraine on Friday to CCC- with a negative outlook, warning that dangerously low foreign currency reserves could prompt a default within months.

“The negative outlook reflects our view of the increasing risk that, without additional financial support, Ukraine may default on its obligations,” the credit rating agency said.

 

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U.S. Congress Move Closer to Imposing More Sanctions Against Russia

SanctionsRepublicans and Democrats spoke with one voice on Monday in pressing President Barack Obama to sign legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia while providing weapons and other assistance to Ukraine.

The widely popular legislation cleared Congress late Saturday, but the White House has remained non-committal about whether Obama will sign it into law. Administration officials say the president is evaluating the measure, which would target Russia’s energy and defense industries.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement saying the bipartisan bill underscores Congress’ “strong moral commitment to the cause of the Ukrainian people” and he called on Obama to sign it immediately.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said lawmakers “stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Ukrainian government and its people against the aggression of Vladimir Putin who continues to upend the international order.”

The legislation would require the president to impose penalties on state-owned arms dealer Rosoboronexport and other Russian defense companies tied to unrest in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Syria. The sanctions would be extended to individuals and entities that help the companies.

The bill also would give the president the authority to provide lethal and non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine. This includes anti-tank weapons, counter-artillery radar and tactical surveillance drones. The bill also authorizes $350 million over two years to cover the cost.

Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year and has given support to pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, angering Western nations.

Visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, Ukraine’s prime minister asked for help for his country’s military as it tries to tamp down pro-Russian insurgents and pleaded for more financial aid from the European Union.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk said it was difficult to fight a Russia that is “armed to the teeth.”

Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke Monday by phone and together urged Russia to ensure its “separatist proxies” cease blocking humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine, according to a White House statement. Biden reaffirmed U.S. economic commitments to Ukraine and welcomed its ceasefire declared Dec. 9, the White House said.

The bill on sanctions and military aid was a rare example of unanimity in a divided Congress as the measure passed the House and Senate by voice vote.

Menendez said: “The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored and President Putin must understand that his destabilizing actions have serious and profound consequences for his country.”

 

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President Poroshenko Orders Closure of All State and Banking Services in East Ukraine

Ukrainian President Poroshenko attends a ceremony to hand over armoured vehicles to OSCE in KievUkrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued several decrees on Saturday to shut state institutions and banking services in pro-Russian eastern regions, pressing a move to cut links with the rebel-held territory.

Ukraine has cut all state funding to separatist parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions after separatists held elections in late October which Poroshenko condemned as illegal and in violation of a ceasefire agreement made in September.

The rebels, in turn, say Ukraine violated the deal by moving to revoke a law granting the regions autonomy, putting an already fragile ceasefire in doubt.

A decree posted on the president’s website said all state companies, institutions and organizations should end their work within a week and “evacuate workers, with their permission, (and) where possible remove property and documents”.

The ruling, which formally asks parliament to revoke the “special status” of the regions, also suggests Ukraine’s central bank take measures to close down all banking services in certain parts of separatist-held areas, including card operations.

Ukraine accuses Russia of sending more soldiers and weapons to help rebels prepare for a new offensive and has cut off state funding to the war-shattered eastern regions as it refuses “to finance terrorists”.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied aiding the separatists, driving relations with Kiev to an all-time low.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said seven soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours, while the press service for the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ said six civilians, including two children, were killed in shelling on Friday. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.

The presidential rulings, which are based on decisions made by Ukraine’s Security Council, also require Ukrainian gas producers to supply all their output in the 2014-15 seasons to the population, rather than to industry.

Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June over a pricing dispute and while some flows may restart in the coming weeks after a EU-brokered agreement, Ukraine still needs to take steps to conserve its insufficient reserves for the winter.

Ukraine is also facing an electricity crisis as the conflict has disrupted coal supplies to thermal power plants, which provide around 40 percent of the country’s electricity, and has left reserves critically low ahead of the cold winter months.

As a result of the latest decree, the energy ministry must now look into the possibility of buying electricity from Russia to help Ukraine shrink its gas consumption,  a serious setback to the country’s efforts to reduce energy dependence on Russia.

 

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