News / Europe

    Putin Demands Surrender of Encircled Ukrainian Troops

    • Cannons of the Ukrainian armed forces are seen at their positions near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • Ukrainian artillery is at a position outside of the village of Luhanske, some 20 kilometers (14 miles) north of Debaltseve, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • Members of the Ukrainian armed forces ride on a military vehicle near Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • Crosses marked only with numbers stand on the graves of unknown pro-Russian separatists at a cemetery in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 16, 2015.
    • Fighters from the separatist-controlled Donetsk region smoke near an armored personnel carrier in the village of Nikishine, southeast of Debaltseve, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • Fighting damaged buildings in the village of Nikishine, southeast of Debaltseve, Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • A man looks at pictures of victims of the Maidan Square protests, which happened nearly one year ago, from February 20-22,  placed as a commemoration in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 17, 2015.
    • Map of Debaltseve, Ukraine
    VOA News

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling on pro-Russian rebels to allow besieged Ukrainian troops safe passage out of the encircled town of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine.

    Speaking Tuesday in the Hungarian capital, Putin also urged the Kyiv government to allow its troops to surrender.

    Putin spoke alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as fighting raged in Debaltseve, despite an internationally brokered cease-fire announced last week by Putin and the leaders of Germany, France and Ukraine.

    In the news conference, broadcast on Moscow television, Putin noted that Ukrainian troops were encircled at Debaltseve "about a week before" the truce deal was reached February 12. He also said he'd predicted last week that the encirclement at Debaltseve presaged "one way or another, for some time, that these clashes will continue."  

    But he said fighting elsewhere in the east had abated since the cease-fire was announced.

    The main rebel group fighting at Debaltseve also insists the town was encircled before the cease-fire began Sunday, making it an internal part of the rebel-held region rather than part of the front lines where envoys agreed the fighting would stop.

    Under the terms of the cease-fire, both sides were to begin withdrawing heavy weapons from frontal areas Tuesday. But as the deadline passed, each side insisted it would not be the first to pull back from Debaltseve. Ahead of Putin's comments in Budapest, Ukraine conceded that "several army units" were surrounded in the town.

    On Monday, separatists offered Ukrainian forces, said to number in the thousands, safe passage out of town if they laid down their arms. But Ukraine promptly rejected the idea, saying Debaltseve lies within its territory under the truce negotiated in Minsk. The devastated town has seen major fighting constantly since earlier truce efforts failed last month.

    "As soon as the militants cease fire, the Ukrainian side will begin to withdraw heavy weaponry from the front line," said Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh in televised comments.

    The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by Russia that supports the Minsk cease-fire deal, while calling on rebels to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

    Ukraine and a host of Western governments accuse Russia of stoking the rebellion in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east with arms and fighters, while the Kremlin denies providing direct support.

    With those denials flatly rejected by Western governments, the European Union on Monday unveiled a new round of sanctions against Moscow for its widely perceived role in the Ukraine crisis.  The new penalties target Russia's deputy defense minister and 18 more individuals with travel bans and asset freezes.

    Russia said it would make an "appropriate response" to the sanctions, while condemning them as "inconsistent and illogical" because they were issued within days of the cease-fire that Putin helped negotiate.

    State Department reaction

    The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it was not in the interests of Ukraine or the world to get into a "proxy war" with Russia over eastern Ukraine, a comment suggesting Washington is now shifting away from arming Ukrainian forces.

    “Our belief here in the administration, and I would be surprised if others disagree, is that getting into a proxy war with Russia is not anything that's in the interest of Ukraine or in the interest of the international community,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “And certainly, as we weigh options, we weigh that as one of the factors.”

    The Obama adminstratration has not made a final decision on providing Ukraine with lethal aid, and Psaki seemed to have left that option open.

    "We certainly believe that a diplomatic approach and a political approach is the right approach here, but the same options that were on the table a week ago or two weeks ago remain on the table," she said. "And so we'll continue to have internal discussions ... about the appropriate" assistance.

    The U.S. had voiced concerns earlier Tuesday, saying it is "gravely concerned" over the deteriorating situation in and around Debaltseve.

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    Senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin said Tuesday that separatists had gained control of more than 80 percent of the east Ukrainian railway hub. "A cleanup of the town is underway," he added.

    Kyiv's military denied the town, which had a peacetime population of 25,000 but is now a bombed-out wasteland, had fallen but acknowledged losing control of some of it.

    It also acknowledged some Ukrainian soldiers had been captured in an ambush, but it denied rebel reports that up to 300 had surrendered or been taken prisoner.

    Rebels: 'Moral' right

    Rebel spokesman Denis Pushilin told Reuters the separatists have the "moral" right to defend the city. He also said the rebels were ready for a mutual withdrawal, but would continue to "respond to fire."

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, condemned the rebels' increased attacks to take control of Debaltseve, calling it a “cynical attack” on the cease-fire deal.

    Poroshenko, in a decree, also set out the timetable for the next rounds of military call-up for the rest of the year for men up to 27 years of age.

    The peace deal and weapons withdrawal were expected to be the focus of a phone call later Tuesday between representatives of the rebels, Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE.

    The OSCE has been tasked with monitoring the cease-fire, but so far has been blocked by the rebels from entering Debaltseve.

    Germany on Tuesday said it had agreed with the leaders of Ukraine and Russia to allow the monitors to reach the besieged town.

    At least five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and nine wounded in fighting, mostly near Debaltseve, over the last 24 hours, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Tuesday.

    European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, asked Tuesday if the peace deal for Ukraine was a failure, said the deal still stands and the EU will insist on its full implementation.

    “We knew from the beginning that it was going to be difficult, fragile, probably not black and white,” Mogherini said. “What we need today is to work and insist for the process to get to a positive outcome. ... We would not leave that option, we would not make it fail.”

    Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 4
    by: MERLIE from: US
    February 18, 2015 10:53 PM

    by: georgek' from: florida
    February 18, 2015 9:40 PM
    Is it not time for a few 'mysterious' stealth bombing raids/drones, by country or countries unknown, flown by "yesterdays crop dusters" to degrade the non-Russian troops, with all western nations denying any knowledge of such actions? The daily 'big lie' by the leader of Russia and his sycophants must by now be choking even the most ardent dreamer of 'peace in our time.' This is the same leader who blocked any hope of movement on Syria when that might have changed world history for the better: the one who can only play the role of bad-boy spoiler in the larger world, while stealing from the kids in his neighborhood because they wont be bullied by him anymore, telling the police it wasn't him! He is the anti-Hercules!

    by: RichardM from: NC USA
    February 18, 2015 8:15 PM
    The last time the Ukrainians were guaranteed safe passage they were told to walk out along a certain route without their weapons. Once they were all on the route they were shot dead, hundreds o them. This is the kind of scum Russia supports. Scum like Putin himself.

    by: henry from: lewis co
    February 18, 2015 7:17 PM
    If I were half-assed big al as-sadist, and my patron saint of all things military were bad Vlad, I’d be thinkin’ about another patron ‘acuz he ain’t heppin’ any!!!!

    Personally, I’m astonished that anybody thinks anything about Russia. Russia is a failed state. It is one step above North Korea on the failed state scale. At best it can be referred to as a criminal enterprise. They lie. They’re sons and daughters of liars and so were all those liars before them. Why does anybody believe anything they say???

    by: Maus
    February 18, 2015 5:01 PM
    Since the breakup of the Soviet empire the Russians have always considered related countries part of Russia or close brothers, Ukraine being one of them. It is just natural for them to do this since they shared some time in a common heritage. Then the Ukraine moves away from Russia. It would be like having Florida cut ties and ally with Cuba. Something like that would stir an emotional response from all Americans. We would feel betrayed. Russia's response to this is typical for Russian style of things.

    Ukraine will eventually be broken into pieces. Russia will take all that it can. The remainder will politically move to the west and eventually join NATO.

    Should Russia venture beyond the current status quo, the repercussions will be on a global scale. The new neoconservative government in the US will see it as their biblical obligation to stop Russia. The political movement is already foaming at the mouth ready to bite without any thought to any sacrifices they will have to make to eliminate their perceived enemy. Russia is now the only one who can stop what is about to happen.
    In Response

    by: J
    February 18, 2015 7:45 PM
    Dear Maus,

    There will be no "remainder" which "will politically move to the west and eventually join NATO." Instead get ready for a new Berlin Wall and all of the Eastern European countries, including East Germany, to fall under Russian control.

    by: J
    February 18, 2015 2:23 PM
    This news story is too chaotic and misleading at best. At the time when the truce was signed, Debaltsevo was still under control of the Ukrainian army. There was fighting everywhere but it was not surrounded by no means. After the truce the Ukrainians stopped using their artillery and tanks and the Russian, violating the truce, pulled too close so that Ukrainians could not use their artillery any more. Putin demanded to SURRENDER not "safe passage out" as it's claimed in the first paragraph. Instead the Ukrianians fought their way back to the mainland today. That's all.

    by: robert from: kiser
    February 18, 2015 2:13 PM
    The Europeans never learn. Chamberlain must be applauding from his grave as appeasement of Russia grows day by day. Our Emperor (O) fits right in with the spineless leadership of western europe and appeasement of Iran as well. Too bad there is not an equilvalent leader in the west to Putin. Why does western media parrot Moscow talking about rebels, etc when it is the Russians themselves leading the fight? Having said all of this the U.S. has unwisely chosen the wrong wars to fight (Vietnam and Iraq). Europe is on its own as it clear that O will not lead in words or deeds.
    In Response

    by: Seamus Mcdermott from: Ireland
    February 18, 2015 7:24 PM
    "Europe is on its own as it clear that O will not lead in words or deeds."

    Excuse me? I believe "O" is the president of the USA, not Europe. The EU has 1.5 million troops, the US 1.3 million (and they're a little tired, y'know). US troops are about a welcome here as British Bobbies would be in Alabama.
    In Response

    by: Jason from: Alaska
    February 18, 2015 4:04 PM
    Your sentiment makes me sick. Who in the h*ell ever said that it was America's job to protect the whole world from everything and everyone? Not with my taxes... fight your own wars thank you very freaking much sir.

    by: Don from: Mississippi
    February 18, 2015 12:29 PM
    When will the world finally realize that Russia has no real intentions of ever allowing peace until all of Ukraine is under their control? Before they ever 'annexed' the Crimea the plan was ready to go. No one dared call Hitler out before it was too late. Wake up Mr Obama!!
    In Response

    by: jim from: florida
    February 18, 2015 2:20 PM
    I think it's obvious too, and that Russia needs a bloody nose.

    by: Adamu Madina from: Nigeria
    February 18, 2015 4:49 AM
    The E U ,Russia and the U S must set their differences and work towards a permanent settlement.

    by: Leslie from: US
    February 18, 2015 12:31 AM
    One would like to ask Mogherini (also Merkel, Holand, and Obama) what they means by "that the EU will insist on its full implementation. Do they mean, after all Ukrainians Soldiers are murdered during sham ceasefire, or after Putin captures all of Ukraine.
    It's disgusting. Forcing Ukraine to put down arms and allowing Putin to arm his terrorists using Humanitarian Aid trucks and allowing them to massacre Ukrainians in Ukraine who have put down their arms.
    In Response

    by: alex from: U.S, Minnesota
    February 18, 2015 1:23 PM
    Stewart, your right about some of the things you say but Ukraine is and has been asking for our help as there allie, we responded with non-leathal sanctions while in the last 10 years Russia has invaded not 1 but 2 country's in Georgia and no Ukraine. When do they stop!? Hitler used the same tacktic invaded several countries before action was finally taken, but by than it was too late. No I like Putin and like the Russians there good and proud people but this has to stop!
    In Response

    by: andrew from: detroit, mich USA
    February 18, 2015 1:20 PM
    With the USA hands full with Isis and the unrest in the middle east Russia knows this and is going to take all of Ukraine and so other Baltic nations the world is at war if you look at the big picture that is unfolding Putin knows he has the upper hand
    In Response

    by: stewart from: England
    February 18, 2015 5:44 AM
    You are in America four and a half thousand miles away and this is Europe so what the hell has this got to do with you apart from the fact that your idiotic government started the conflict like they have most other conflicts in the world today. You people in America are lied to and treated like fools by your government, You no longer live in a democracy see the link to a Princetown and northwestern universities study
    Comments page of 4

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