Rebels agree to talks, Ukraine under pressure
In an unexpected announcement that came after talks with Russia’s ambassador to Kiev and an OSCE envoy, the head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic on Monday said he was dropping his demand for an immediate Ukrainian troop withdrawal.
‘We hope that during the period in which both sides halt fire, we will be able to agree and begin consultations about holding negotiations about a peaceful settlement to the conflict,’ Oleksandr Borodai said, adding that his forces would hold their fire until Friday morning.
The move put pressure on Poroshenko because the 48-year-old chocolate tycoon had previously ruled out negotiating with rebels directly implicated in the violence that has left nearly 400 dead in 11 weeks in Ukraine’s Russified rustbelt. Poroshenko ordered a one-week unilateral ceasefire last Friday that was accompanied by a blueprint for ending the 11-week uprising threatening the very survival of his ex-Soviet state. But he also said that he would never talk directly to rebels with ‘blood on their hands’ or those implicated in ‘murder and torture.’
Poroshenko did not spell out whom he was excluding from the negotiations. But his comments were interpreted in Moscow to imply that he was referring specifically to rebel commanders such as Borodai.
The Russian-border regions of Donetsk and Lugansk -- home to seven million people as well as Ukraine’s crucial coal and metals industry -- were overrun in early April by gunmen who proclaimed their independence from Kiev the following month.
The rebel commanders in Lugansk have not yet publicly joined Borodai’s peace overture and the Ukranian military reported more violence overnight. The spokesman of Ukraine’s ‘anti-terrorist operation’ said gunmen continued attacking soldiers in the Donetsk rebel stronghold city of Slavyansk and a nearby town.