Ukraine ready to crisis talks with rebels, Russia

Ukraine’s embattled new leader agreed on Friday to immediate crisis talks with rebel commanders and Russia aimed at stemming the bloodshed that has threatened his country’s survival and ruptured East-West ties. Clashes in the economically-vital border regions of Lugansk and Donetsk have picked up with renewed vigour since Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tore up a 10-day ceasefire earlier this week.

His decision on Monday was immediately followed by the launch of a ‘massive’ offensive by Kiev that led President Vladimir Putin to warn that Russia has the right to protect its compatriots in Ukraine.
The head of Ukraine’s national security and defence council said government forces had regained control over 23 of the conflict zone’s 36 local regions. But the military also reported the loss of nine soldiers in the latest overnight exchanges of mortar fire.

The uprising was sparked by the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin administration and fuelled by Russia’s subsequent seizure of Crimea. Nearly three months of guerrilla warfare has killed more than 460 people and left Western leaders frustrated by repeated mediation failures. But the ongoing low-scale warfare on the European Union’s eastern frontier has also unified the West in its biggest pushback to date against Putin’s seeming attempt to reassert command over former Soviet lands.
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