Saturday 20 December 2014

Ukraine on the brink of civil war, says German minister

David Blair in Donetsk

Published 07/05/2014 | 02:30

A bazooka-wielding pro-Russian insurgent stands on guard duty in Donetsk yesterday. The town of Slavyansk is the rebels’ stronghold in the region, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed there on Monday during fighting between the rebels and pro-government forces that support Kiev. Reuters
A bazooka-wielding pro-Russian insurgent stands on guard duty in Donetsk yesterday. The town of Slavyansk is the rebels’ stronghold in the region, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed there on Monday during fighting between the rebels and pro-government forces that support Kiev. Reuters
Pro-Russian armed separatists guard a street near an administrative building in Donetsk. Reuters
Pro-Russian armed separatists guard a street near an administrative building in Donetsk. Both sides buried their dead on Tuesday as Ukraine slides further towards war, with supporters of Russia and of a united Ukraine accusing each other of tearing the country apart. Reuters

Ukraine is only a "few steps" away from "military confrontation", the German foreign minister warned yesterday, as he formally advised German citizens to leave the eastern regions of the troubled country.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered a grave appraisal of Ukraine's crisis after the country's interior minister pleaded for understanding over the failure of the security forces to defeat pro-Russian insurgents.

All services at the international airport serving the Donetsk region, which is the most populous area of Ukraine, were suspended for eight hours yesterday without explanation.

The information board in the departures hall of Sergei Prokofiev Airport showed a number of cancelled flights to destinations including Moscow, Munich and Istanbul.

The red, blue and black flag of the 'Donetsk People's Republic', which was established by pro-Russian activists in this region, flew over the hall. The airport later announced that normal services had been resumed from 3.30pm local time.

Mr Steinmeier told four European newspapers that the bloodshed in Ukraine's port city of Odessa, which claimed at least 40 lives on Friday, had been a turning point. "The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation," he said.

The situation had already escalated in a way "that a short time ago we would not have considered possible," added Mr Steinmeier. His ministry urged all Germans to "leave" Ukraine's eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"Checkpoints and roadblocks were erected in these regions, which are operated by irregular armed forces," read advice from the German authorities.

"In the light of recent developments, it must be assumed that the media will run special risk of being detained or arrested by separatist forces."

Germany has close economic ties with Ukraine and a respected network of diplomatic contacts. So far, the British Foreign Office has not urged British citizens to leave, advising instead against all but "essential" travel to Donetsk and against all travel to the towns where the offensive against pro-Russian insurgents is taking place.

The main target of this operation is Slavyansk, a town of 120,000 which is controlled by about 800 pro-Russian rebels. Four Ukrainian soldiers were killed there on Monday and an Mi-24 helicopter was shot down.

Arsen Avakov, Ukraine's interior minister, tried to dispel the impression that the security forces had suffered a series of defeats. He said that at least 30 insurgents had been killed, although it was not clear whether he was referring to the battle on Monday.

Mr Avakov also alleged that "Chechen" fighters had been infiltrated into Slavyansk to bolster the pro-Russian insurgency. He asked for understanding over the difficulties faced by the armed forces.

"There is a war against us on our territory," he said. "We can't do much as there are civilians all around. If somebody supports us, or doesn't support us, or is for the Russian language, or is against, it's not important. The Ukrainian army can't shoot at the civilian population.

"The enemy is hiding behind them and shooting from behind their backs."

Andriy Deshchytsia, the foreign minister, appealed to the international community to help ensure a presidential election goes ahead on May 25. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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