Ukraine president fires third defence minister this year
President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday dismissed Ukraine's third defence minister since the March seizure by Russia of Crimea and the subsequent uprising by pro-Kremlin insurgents in the separatist east.
The Western-backed leader's official website said he would nominate a new defence chief on Monday after "accepting the resignation" of Valeriy Geletey.
The dismissal and other recent reshuffles among the top brass "will seriously strengthen the security agencies and beef up the defence capabilities of Ukraine," it said.
But the sacking also highlights a sense of failure that has enveloped the once-proud Soviet-era force as the six-month crisis drags on and the death toll from the conflict approaches 3,400.
It also threatens to undermine Poroshenko's position ahead of crunch peace negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Milan on Friday.
There had for days been speculation about Poroshenko's displeasure with the former policeman and head of the state's VIP bodyguard, who was appointed on July 3 in an effort by Kiev to deliver a knockout punch to the rebels after they had violated a brief truce.
The respected Dzerkalo Tyzhnia weekly reported that Geletey's fate was sealed when he received a report on August 23 of a stealth invasion by hundreds of Russian special forces and dozens of armoured vehicles into the eastern war zone.
It cited a military commander as saying that Geletey ignored the information -- repeatedly denied by the Kremlin -- and instead took part in a hotly disputed Independence Day parade in central Kiev the next day.
- Eastern bloodbath -
The alleged Russian incursion was followed by a sweeping counter-offensive by the insurgents that saw them seize back a chunk of the land they had lost in the preceeding weeks.
The militias also completely wiped out a Ukrainian unit of at least 100 soldiers near the town of Ilovaysk -- a bloodbath that shocked the country and was soon followed by Poroshenko's decision to sign a Russian-backed peace pact with the rebel command.
The September 5 truce agreement was designed to create a buffer zone along the front line and grant the insurgents limited autonomy within Ukraine.
But neither side has pulled back their big guns or halted all fire.
Militias across the Russian-speaking rustbelt are still attacking Ukranian forces and the number of civilians killed every day by stray shells and rockets is nearing that seen at the height of the six-month war.
Poroshenko argued in a televised address to the nation, excerpts of which appeared on the presidential website, that his decision to halt the fighting was saving Ukrainian lives.
"The number of casualties among our servicemen has declined considerably and, thankfully, in the past few days we have managed not to lose any of our heroes," Poroshenko said.
But he avoided mention of nearly a dozen civilian deaths reported by the mayor's office in the rebel-held eastern bastion of Donetsk since Friday.
The northern outskirts of the coal mining hub on nearly one million people -- now half-deserted -- have been devastated by weeks of shelling that has accompanied rebel attempts to seize a major international airport.
© 2014 AFP