Less than a day after the latest moves to reduce tensions in Ukraine, the efforts were dealt a blow as Kiev said Sunday it wouldn’t proceed with a withdrawal of heavy weaponry from war-torn provinces of eastern Ukraine until rebels there abide by a cease-fire signed earlier this month.
The announcement came after the two sides agreed early on Saturday in Minsk to pull back artillery and rocket-launching systems from the battle zone, and it underlined the difficulty of converting the cease-fire pact signed Sept. 5 into a lasting peace. Dozens have been killed in fighting since the deal took effect.
The latest talks came amid concern in Moscow over escalating sanctions from the West, and worries in Kiev that its military can’t withstand the Russian troops and equipment that have been flowing into the country.
The Minsk agreement called for both sides to pull artillery and rocket-launching systems about 9 miles away from the combat zone. But persuading combatants to stop shooting could be a tougher matter.
For the Ukrainian government, an end to fighting would leave some major population centers of eastern Ukraine in rebel hands. Many on the Ukrainian side are in volunteer battalions and skeptical of Kiev’s peacemaking efforts.
Russian-backed rebels, meanwhile, had set their sights on much larger gains, including control of the entirety of two provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk. Today, they hold less than half of both.
On Sunday, fighting continued to simmer in eastern Ukraine. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and eight wounded in the past day.
Explosions and gunfire were heard outside the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which Russian-backed rebels have been trying to take since last month, Ukrainian news services reported.
Mr. Lysenko said that rebels fired on government troops near 22 towns and villages on Saturday and that Ukrainians returned fire in some instances. Rebels likewise accuse the government of shooting at and shelling their positions.
Mr. Lysenko said a leading point of the Minsk agreement was a cease-fire, and without one the government won’t talk about implementing the pact. and the government “is not talking about” implementing the deal until it is achieved. He added that any withdrawal of Ukrainian forces “should be synchronized together with the withdrawal of Russian forces.”