Ukrainian government forces pressed on with a military drive against pro-Russian separatists on Wednesday as Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France prepared a meeting of foreign ministers to try to bring the crisis in Ukraine’s east under control.
“The armed forces and the National Guard are continuing the offensive on terrorists and criminals. The actions of our military are effective and are having results,” parliament speaker Oleksander Turchynov said.
But there was no immediate word on overnight military successes by government forces though acting defence minister Mykhailo Koval said late on Monday that they had carried out strikes against 120 rebel positions.
“We have to eliminate the (rebel) fighters who have brought misfortune to the land of the Donbass. And we are doing just that,” he said on TV channel “Ukraina”, referring to the coal mining region where the rebels have declared independence.
Military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky said the pilot of the SU-24 aircraft that was struck by a rebel missile on Wednesday managed to bring the plane under control and “destroy” the enemy position. He said that since the launch of the new offensive on Tuesday one Ukrainian paratrooper had been killed by sniper fire and 13 others wounded.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, under pressure at home to take a forceful line against separatists who have been fighting government forces since April, refused to renew a ceasefire on Monday night and ordered a government offensive “to answer the terrorists, militants and marauders.”
His move won backing from the United States, but drew fire from Russian President Vladimir Putin who said the newly-elected Poroshenko had veered off the road to peace. In his turn, Poroshenko accuses Russia of fanning the conflict and allowing fighters and equipment to cross the border to support the rebels,
In a fresh attempt to stop the spread of the crisis, which has caused the biggest Russia-West confrontation since the Cold War, Russian, Ukrainian, German and French foreign ministers were to meet in Berlin later on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Diplomats cautioned against expectations of a breakthrough. “There is not a precise objective. It’s an opportunity to work on peace efforts, but we don’t want to raise expectations,” a French diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had backed the idea of the meeting with France’s Laurent Fabius and Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin during a phone conversation with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier late on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said.
President Poroshenko and his security chiefs say the rebels carried out numerous breaches of a week-long unilateral ceasefire declared on June 20 and extended by three more days on June 27. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said 27 servicemen had been killed since the start of the ceasefire.