Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed Monday to recover control over his country’s eastern borders by the end of this week and propose a cease-fire with pro-Russia separatists whose nearly three-month battle with government troops has taken 300 lives.
Poroshenko convened Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council to unveil a peace plan he had outlined during his June 7 inaugural address. It would offer amnesty to any separatists who have “no blood on their hands” and are willing to surrender their arms and negotiate over their grievances with the central government in Kiev, the capital.
But peace talks and a cease-fire are contingent on the government having full control of the border, where authorities accuse Russia of sending across fighters and weaponry to bolster the eastern Ukrainian separatists aiming to annex their seized territory to Russia.
“We are going to take decisive action to renew security on our national border this week,” Poroshenko told the security meeting, according to Interfax-Ukraine. “I hope we will fully succeed in doing so.
“As soon as the border is closed, we could immediately proclaim a cease-fire. It is irresponsible to announce a cease-fire with an open border, given the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk,” Poroshenko said, referring to the two eastern Ukraine regions where gunmen have seized government buildings and declared their independence.
On Monday, armed militants in Donetsk overran the regional treasury building and the National Bank of Ukraine branch, barring entry to customers at the latter but allowing employees to leave, the Ukrinform news agency reported.
The Donetsk regional governor, who has been sidelined by the pro-Russia separatists since they seized the local government administration building in late March, warned that the militants’ control of the national bank branch would likely mean a cutoff of state employees’ salary checks and retirees’ pensions.
“This action will have implications for residents of the region. The payment of all salaries to state employees, pensions, and allowances will stop,” warned Serhiy Taruta, who was named this year to head the Donetsk regional government by interim Kiev authorities whom Poroshenko superseded with his election last month.
The separatists that Kiev accuse of being armed and instigated by Russian President Vladimir Putin carried out their deadliest attack of the rebellion on Saturday when they shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane in the Luhansk region, killing all 49 troops and flight crew members on board.
As tensions mounted between Moscow and Kiev over the fighting in eastern Ukraine, the two countries failed to reach an agreement during European Union-brokered talks in Brussels on their standoff over Ukraine’s unpaid gas bills to Russia. Before Kremlin-allied Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fled a rebellion in February, Moscow rewarded his loyalty with heavily discounted natural gas sales. The price Russia’s Gazprom monopoly now demands for supplies to Ukraine jumped 80% after Yanukovich’s ouster.
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said Ukraine must now pay in advance for any gas supplies, having failed to make good on a $1.95-billion payment that was due Monday for past deliveries.
The move was unlikely to have any immediate consequences for energy supplies in Ukraine, as the former Soviet republic’s state gas company, Naftogaz, said it had reserves to last through this year. Neither were there expected to be interruptions in the flow of gas from Russia to Europe, even though half of the continent’s supplies from Russia are transported through pipelines in Ukraine.
Kupriyanov said Gazprom would continue to deliver natural gas to its European customers without specifying whether alternate pipeline routes would be used or the Ukrainian networks trusted to refrain from punitive actions.
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