Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday declared the Russian-backed separatist republics in the east to be terrorist organizations, officially ruling out the possibility of holding peace talks with their representatives, as the fighting escalated.
The move came after Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the Ukrainian government to speak directly to the rebels in a bid to end the fighting that has killed around 5,100 people in eastern Ukraine since April, figures show of ONU.
The Kiev government has long called separatists from the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk “terrorists”, but they can now be subject to anti-terrorism law, said Oleksiy Melnyk, defense analyst at the Razumkov Center. This means that the government has the right to restrict their movements in Ukraine, block their bank accounts and, most importantly, prevent them from participating in the peace talks, he said.
Parliament sends a message that Ukraine will only negotiate with Russia and not with its “puppets” in the separatist republics, Melnyk said.
The parliament also declared Russia an “aggressor state” and called on the United Nations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the parliaments of other countries to officially recognize it as such.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supporting the rebels with troops and weapons. Russia denies this, but Western military officials say the large number of heavy weapons under rebel control contradicts this claim.
December lull raised hopes for peace
A lull in fighting in December raised hopes for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, but diplomatic efforts stalled. In recent weeks, separatist forces have launched a series of new offensives to expand the territory under their control in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along the Russian border.
Some of the fiercest fighting has taken place around the town of Debaltseve, a road and rail hub northeast of the main rebel-held town of Donetsk. Armed Forces spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said rebel forces were attacking from both sides in an attempt to surround Ukrainian troops.
The fighting left nine soldiers dead and 29 injured in the past day, Seleznyov said, adding that artillery and mortar fire hit residential areas and civilian casualties had been reported.
Fighting also raged on the outskirts of Donetsk.
The remaining highway to Donetsk was closed to traffic for the second day in a row on Tuesday following an explosion at a Ukrainian military checkpoint that left at least two soldiers dead.
Dozens of vehicles, including long-distance buses bringing Donetsk residents home and trucks carrying goods for the city’s businesses, were stranded along the road to Donetsk as drivers waited for the reopening of the city. the way.
Passengers on the bus, some with young children, said on Tuesday they were struggling to sleep as temperatures outside fell below freezing. Hours after dawn, a crowd angrily clashed with soldiers blocking the route, but were told firmly that no passage would be allowed, even for those wishing to make the journey on foot.
Shortly after lunchtime, shells fell in nearby fields, prompting many motorists to flee to safer locations in the nearby government-controlled town of Kurakhove.