Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev. (Reuters)
Kiev, June 20 (Reuters): Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today ordered a seven-day ceasefire in the fight against pro-Russian separatists, but also warned them they could face death if they did not use the time to put down their guns.
In Moscow, the Kremlin, whose support Poroshenko needs for his plan to end the insurgency in the rebellious east, denounced the ceasefire as an ultimatum to separatists rather than a peace offering.
Poroshenko, installed only three weeks ago as President after seven months of turmoil in the ex-Soviet republic, ordered government forces to cease firing to allow his peace plan for the region to take root.
But after fierce fighting yesterday about 100km from the Russian border that apparently caused heavy losses for separatists and some deaths on the Ukrainian side, Poroshenko backed his declaration with a warning to the rebels.
Interfax news agency quoted him as telling military officers in the east that the temporary ceasefire would give the rebels just one week to lay down their arms, after which “they will have to be eliminated”.
The ceasefire “does not mean that we will not fight back in the event of aggression towards our military. We will do everything we can to defend the territory of our state”, his website quoted him separately as saying.
The ceasefire will run from 10pm today until 10am on June 27, it said.
After announcement of the ceasefire, Poroshenko launched a 15-point peace plan to end the insurgency in the Russian-speaking east which erupted in April after street protests in the capital Kiev toppled the Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich.
Russia subsequently annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Kiev’s new authorities quickly saw the hand of Moscow when separatist groups took control of strategic buildings and towns in the east, declaring “people’s republics” and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
In Donetsk, the main industrial hub in the region, the rebels remained unmoved by Poroshenko’s ceasefire gesture or the unveiling of a peace plan today.
“What kind of reaction do you expect? When they (the Kiev side) pull out their army, then you will have our reaction,” a spokeswoman for the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic said.
The first soldiers for a people’s republic army would take oaths of allegiance on Donetsk’s Lenin Square tomorrow, she announced defiantly.
A spokesman for government forces said about 300 separatists were killed in fighting yesterday in an eastern area about 100km from the border and fighting continued there today.
Ukrainian forces lost seven servicemen, he said. The rebel casualties could not be verified independently.
Earlier today, Kiev said government forces had regained control of the border with Russia and could now stop supplies being sent to arm pro-Russian separatists — something Poroshenko needed to hear before calling a ceasefire.
Poroshenko is now gearing up for a round of high diplomacy to sell his peace plan to allies and adversaries alike in a bid to end the insurgency that threatens the unity of the country.
His biggest challenge will be to win real support from President Vladimir Putin for his plan, despite relations being at rock bottom amid Ukrainian accusations that Moscow fomented the unrest.