Key players in Ukraine conflict

5th April 2015, Comments 0 comments

From Ukraine's war-torn Donetsk and Lugansk regions to Kiev, Moscow and the capitals of Western Europe, here are some of the key players in the year-long conflict that has claimed over 6,000 lives in east Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin

The Russian president, 62, is accused by Kiev and the West of masterminding the pro-Moscow uprising in east Ukraine and sending in his troops to spearhead the fighting.

Putin, who says he personally oversaw Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last March, denies Russia's army is involved in the conflict but openly gives political support to the separatists.

The Kremlin strongman insists the conflict is an internal Ukrainian issue and that the rebels are defending themselves against the threat of fascism from Kiev after the ouster of Russian-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in a US-backed "coup".

Kiev claims that one word from Putin can end the turmoil in the east but that Moscow is seeking a frozen conflict that will allow it to hamper Ukraine's shift towards Europe.

Petro Poroshenko

The pro-Western billionaire chocolate tycoon, 49, was elected president of his teetering nation in May 2014 on a pledge that he would stamp out the pro-Russian uprising tearing apart the east in a matter of months.

But Poroshenko has seen his ill-equipped troops fail to win back the separatist regions and been forced to shake hands with Vladimir Putin on a deal that could give the rebels considerable autonomy.

The oligarch has often found himself trapped between the demands of hardline nationalists in Kiev to keep on fighting and calls from Ukraine's financial backers in the West to seek compromise with the Kremlin.

He portrays the struggle facing his country now as a battle against Russian expansionism that could shape the future of Europe.

Alexander Zakharchenko

The former mine electrician, 38, rose from militia commander to become head of the rebel's self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Dismissed by Kiev and the West as a Kremlin puppet, Donetsk native Zakharchenko took over from a mysterious Russian political consultant to the head the breakaway statelet in August.

Normally dressed in military fatigues, he was reportedly lightly injured while leading his men in the battle for the strategic town of Debaltseve in February -- days after putting pen to paper on a ceasefire deal with Kiev.

Igor Plotnitsky

The former Soviet army officer became head of the smaller separatist enclave -- the Lugansk People's Republic -- after serving as the rebels' "defence minister".

Very attached to the Soviet past, Plotnitsky, 50, has condemned the tearing down of Lenin statues elsewhere in Ukraine as a "moral genocide".

Also accused of being a Moscow stooge, Plotnitsky has struggled to exert control over a rag-tag group of renegade cossacks that operate on his territory.

Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov

The former Russian intelligence agent with experience fighting from Chechnya to Yugoslavia claims to have pulled the trigger on the war in east Ukraine as the commander of pro-Moscow fighters that captured key locations around the region.

With a penchant for reenacting historical battles, Girkin was squeezed out of the separatist leadership in August after abandoning the rebels' former stronghold of Slavyansk, where he imposed an iron-fisted rule that reportedly included executing people for petty theft.

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande

The German Chancellor and, to a lesser extent, the French president have been at the forefront of diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the conflict in east Ukraine.

Often playing the good cop to Washington's bad, the European duo have tried to halt a war that they fear could spill across the continent.

Both leaders jetted to the Belarussian capital Minsk in February for marathon talks with Poroshenko and Putin to hammer out a new ceasefire deal that has ushered in a relative lull in the fighting.

© 2015 AFP

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