Kiev: Ukrainian government forces repelled a separatist assault on the Donetsk airport and shelling killed 10 civilians in the eastern city, fraying a ceasefire that had curtailed violence and casualties for most of last month.

Government forces still hold the airport of the biggest city in the combat zone after repelling a one-hour attack this morning, the army said on Facebook. The civilians were killed and at least nine more were wounded, including by a shell that exploded meters from a school where 70 children were in class, the Donetsk regional council said on its website.

“The situation in the area remains difficult," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said on Wednesday. Rebels “continue to violate the ceasefire and shell Ukrainian positions."

With elections approaching on 26 October, an upsurge in violence since late last month contradicts comments by President Petro Poroshenko last week that the worst of the war is over. While US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said on Twitter Russian forces and military equipment are still in the country and the border remains unsecured, Vladimir Putin’s government denies any involvement in the conflict.

Difficult Policing

Joint monitoring groups including Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and representatives from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will begin on Wednesday on patrols to monitor adherence to the ceasefire reached in Minsk, Belarus on 5 September.

The two sides have agreed to establish a 30 kilometer (19 mile) buffer zone between government forces and the rebels and exchange prisoners. Ukraine is preparing to receive its first drones to oversee the truce area, Lysenko said, even as the number of informal units and long-distance artillery bombardments from both sides may complicate the mission.

“The ceasefire in Ukraine offers an opportunity but Russia maintains its ability to destabilize Ukraine and Russia remains in breach of international law," Nato’s new secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters in Brussels on his first day as the head of the military alliance.

The conflict has killed more than 3,500 people and driven at least 615,000 from their homes, the United Nations estimates. Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed two days ago, the most since a 5 September truce.

Assets, Trade

Putin justified annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March by saying Russia needed to protect Russian speakers on the Black Sea peninsula. On Wednesday, deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin said the same reasoning would prompt his country to defend its citizens in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria, the Interfax news service reported.

The resurgence in the conflict—the worst standoff between Russia and its Cold War foes since the fall of the Iron Curtain—has hit assets. The ruble weakened to a record against the dollar, losing 0.1% in Moscow as the Itar- Tass news service reported that presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev backs the idea of capital controls.

Ukraine’s hryvnia, this year’s worst-performing currency, lost 0.1%, as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said his government and state-run energy company NAK Naftogaz had begun the procedure to make a $1.6 billion Eurobond payment.

EU Ire

EU leaders have held fast on refusing to ease sanctions, deepening Russia’s economic woes, with the government in Moscow asking the central bank to consider providing foreign-currency swaps to banks. Sanctioned companies including state-run oil producer OAO Rosneft and gas producer OAO Novatek have asked for aid.

Russia, which says it wants to normalize ties with the US and EU, also drew ire from the latter after its government adopted a decree proposing new trade barriers with Ukraine. The decree violates a deal under which the bloc delayed deepening trade ties with Ukraine until 2016, European Commission president Jose Antonio Barroso said in a letter to Putin.

“We consider that the application of this decree would contravene the agreed joint conclusions and the decision to delay the provisional application of the trade related part of the Association Agreement," Barroso said in the letter, referring to the EU’s pact to draw closer to Ukraine, a process that Putin opposes.

Russia risks an escalation of EU sanctions if separatists make further military gains in eastern Ukraine, a person familiar with German government policy told Bloomberg on Wednesday.

‘Long Haul’

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said his country won’t change its position over Ukraine to win a repeal of sanctions. Ukraine accuses its neighbor of fomenting the unrest near the two nations’ border to prevent it from joining Nato and the EU following the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a slight easing of the conflict in recent weeks wasn’t a reason to roll back sanctions.

“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position," she told reporters in Berlin two days ago. “Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands." Bloomberg

Brian Parkin, Arne Delfs and Tony Czuczka in Berlin and James G. Neuger in Brussels also contributed to this story.

Close