Ukraine leader accuses Russia of arms supplies to rebel east
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday accused Russia of sending major military backup to pro-Moscow rebels, speaking just ahead of talks on the conflict with the French and German leaders.
Poroshenko is set to discuss the recent resurgence of violence at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin.
Merkel and Hollande have put enormous political onus on resolving Ukraine's 16-month pro-Russian uprising and bringing back peace to the European Union's turbulent eastern front.
Monday's talks will be the three leaders' first meeting since marathon peace talks in Belarussian capital of Minsk in February brought in a truce that has since been breached by almost daily shelling on the front line.
The death toll in the 16-month-long war is now close to 6,900.
The Berlin meeting will be notable for the diplomatically-charged exclusion of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as Moscow and Kiev accuse each other of reigniting the conflict. The three leaders are set to hold a news conference at 1645 GMT.
Putin's absence "means that before a meeting in the Normandy format (including Russia), Ukraine, France and Germany must coordinate their positions and approaches," Poroshenko told a small group of journalists, including AFP, in Kiev shortly before leaving for Berlin. He added that all four leaders might meet in September.
"We must ensure that Russia respects the Minsk agreements," Poroshenko said.
In Berlin, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said that the meeting of three leaders aimed to "reinforce the Minsk peace process."
"Unfortunately we have to note that in recent times, in recent weeks, the security situation in eastern Ukraine has worsened, which leads not only to grave difficulties for the population, but also for the OSCE observer mission," Seibert said.
Before heading to Berlin, Poroshenko accused Moscow of this week sending convoys of military aid to the east.
"Just this week three big convoys crossed our border towards Lugansk, Donetsk and Debaltseve," Poroshenko said, referring to rebel-controlled territory.
In a speech in Kiev for Independence Day celebrations, Poroshenko accused Russia of having sent a total of up to 500 tanks, 400 artillery systems and up to 950 military armoured vehicles to pro-Russian rebels.
He was apparently talking about the whole conflict, although he did not specify the time period for these deliveries.
Kiev and Western countries accuse Russia of supplying arms to the rebels and deploying regular troops in the separatist east, which Moscow denies.
- 'War of independence continues' -
Poroshenko said that 50,000 Russian soldiers are deployed on the border with Ukraine and 9,000 Russian servicemen are among the 40,000 fighters of the separatist force.
Despite Western sanctions that "deal Russia's economy a hard blow," Moscow "has still not given up the idea of a direct intervention or a rebel assault in the country's interior," Poroshenko said.
"The war for independence is still continuing and we can only claim victory by combining our defensive efforts, diplomatic talent, political responsibility and steely endurance," Poroshenko said.
He was speaking as troops marched through Kiev in a parade to celebrate 24 years since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union.
"We must spend our 25th year of independence as if we are skating on fragile ice. The smallest careless step could be fatal," Poroshenko said.
The parade along Kiev's main street did not include heavy military hardware as it did last year.
Soldiers who had fought in the east marched through Kiev, cheered by Ukrainians, most of them wearing their national dress of embroidered shirts.
In Donetsk, the rebels' de facto capital, some 300 people gathered in the city centre to condemn what they called "Dependence Day", carrying placards saying "No to Fascism!", "Poroshenko, you have blood on your hands" and "We are against the war," an AFP journalist saw.
© 2015 AFP