Ukraine Says It Makes Gains Against Rebels in Luhansk

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Ukraine Says It Makes Gains Against Rebels in LuhanskGerman Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday called the discussions, which also included France’s Laurent Fabius, “a difficult conversation.”
The Ukrainian government said its forces took control of one of four districts in the pro-Russian separatist stronghold of Luhansk and are fighting in the city center as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict intensified.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Kiev on Aug. 23 for talks with President Petro Poroshenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin will take part in an Aug. 26 Customs Union meeting in Minsk attended by Poroshenko, the Kremlin said in a statement today. Poroshenko is due to join an Aug. 30 European Union summit in Brussels and a Sept. 4 NATO summit in the U.K.
European leaders are pushing to halt the conflict that’s killed more than 2,000 people and fractured Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March. The war, which Ukraine and its allies say is being fueled by Putin’s support for the insurgents, has led to sanctions that have hurt trade and threatened to send Russia’s $2 trillion economy into a recession. Russia denies it’s involved.
“Ukraine’s armed forces have been beating the separatists for weeks now and are moving deeper into the east,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, academic director at the German government’s Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin, said by phone. “Something must have happened that’s boosting their fighting skills. My gut feeling — and I don’t have any concrete evidence — is that the Ukrainian forces are getting support from the outside.”
Luhansk Shelling
Shelling overnight in Luhansk led to casualties and damage to buildings, particularly in the center, the local council said on its website. One Ukrainian government serviceman was killed and 28 wounded in the past 24 hours, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev today.
Ukraine’s government says it will declare a truce only if the pro-Russian rebels lay down their arms and Russia stops supplying them with weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meeting with his Ukrainian, French and German counterparts in Berlin, repeated calls yesterday for an unconditional cease-fire. Russia denies it’s aiding the rebels.
Russia began a military drill test-firing surface-to-air missile systems, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said. The exercises in Russia’s southern Astrakhan region on the Caspian Sea involve S-400 and S-300 surface-to-air systems, Defense ministry spokesman Igor Klimov said by phone today.
Ukraine Rates
The conflict has cost Ukraine $8 billion, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was quoted as saying today by the Unian newswire. Ukraine’s central bank raised its overnight refinancing rate to 17.5 percent today from 15 percent as it seeks to support the hryvnia. The Ukrainian currency fell as much as 1.6 percent before trading little changed at to 13.03 per dollar, taking its decline for the month to 5.8 percent.
The ruble declined 0.3 percent to 36.165 per dollar at 6:45 p.m. in Moscow. The yield on 10-year local-currency bonds climbed three basis points to 9.31 percent as the government canceled its fifth auction in a row. Still, Russia’s benchmark Micex stock index gained for an eighth day, rising 0.8 percent.[eap_ad_2]
Galina Balzamova, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who’s in the Rostov region of southern Russia, said by phone today she expects agreement “in the very near future” on security guarantees for the Geneva-based agency to accompany Russian aid trucks into Ukraine, though she couldn’t give a specific time. The ICRC says it’s “extremely concerned” about the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.
Disease Risk
High temperatures and a lack of mains water and garbage collections means there’s a risk infectious diseases may spread, Luhansk city council said.
Residents in the other main rebel redoubt, Donetsk, are hearing shooting in the central part of the city, the Interfax news service reported, citing its reporter there.
Ukrainian troops have been shelled 10 times since yesterday, the Defense Ministry said on its Facebook page. Regular forces are fighting rebels in Yasynuvata in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine and blockading Ilovaysk to the east of Donetsk, it said. Meanwhile, paratroopers and infantry are battling to keep control of the villages of Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate in the neighboring Luhansk region.
Government forces recovered 17 bodies from where a column of civilian vehicles fleeing the fighting in the Luhansk region were attacked yesterday, Lysenko said. He told reporters yesterday that separatists shelled the column, killing “dozens of people.” There was no independent confirmation.
“The $1 million question is whether a defeat of the separatists would be accepted by Putin who might decide he’s fed up and has got what he wanted by grabbing Crimea,” Kamp said. “Or Putin could say that Crimea is too costly without a land bridge and with my reputation ruined anyway I can now send the little green men into eastern Ukraine.”
Fighters wearing unmarked uniforms, who appeared in Crimea before Russia annexed it, were dubbed “little green men.” Putin later confirmed they were Russian soldiers. (Bloomberg)[eap_ad_3]

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