Ukraine rebels still pushing for full independence after truce

Ukraine`s pro-Russian insurgents vowed on Saturday to push for independence after a truce with Kiev appeared to hand them de facto control of huge swathes of the ex-Soviet state`s economically-vital industrial east.

AFP| Last Updated: Sep 06, 2014, 23:18 PM IST
Ukraine rebels still pushing for full independence after truce

Kiev: Ukraine`s pro-Russian insurgents vowed on Saturday to push for independence after a truce with Kiev appeared to hand them de facto control of huge swathes of the ex-Soviet state`s economically-vital industrial east.

The political leaders of the rebellion signed a 12-point ceasefire with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko`s envoy in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Friday that lays out the rules for prisoner exchanges and humanitarian assistance for the bomb-scarred war zone.

It also gives the gunmen at least temporary control over lands they seized from government forces in a lightning counter-strike that NATO suspects involved stealth Russian paratrooper battalions -- a charge the Kremlin brushes off as Western political propaganda.

But the European-brokered deal sets aside explosive issues such as the future status of the militia-run regions of Lugansk and Donetsk for separate political negotiations that may begin as early as next week.

"We want our own president, our own currency and our own banking system," a pro-Russian guerrilla named Oleg told AFP in the Donetsk region town of Yasynuvata.

"This is the only way. There is no other alternative."

Rebel Donetsk parliament speaker Boris Litvinov insisted that the ceasefire did not mean fighters had given up on the goal of establishing their own state with binding diplomatic and trade ties to Russia.

Litvinov said he and his allies in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People`s Republic disagreed strongly with the few elements of the Minsk protocol made public by Poroshenko thus far.

Moscow and the OSCE European security body that mediated the Minsk meeting have also failed to publish copies of the accord.

"My position, and the position of the (separatist) parliament is that the most important thing after the negotiations is (Kiev`s) recognition of an independent republic that will be called either the Donetsk People`s Republic or Novorossiya (New Russia)," Litvinov told AFP.President Vladimir Putin recently began stoking patriotic sentiments at home and further infuriating Kiev by peppering his speeches with references to Novorossiya -- parts of modern Ukraine once conquered by the tsars.

The politically-loaded term has turned into a rallying cry for rebels who accuse Poroshenko`s pro-Western team of stirring anti-Russian sentiments and relying on right-wing thugs to intimidate eastern residents who cherish their Soviet past.

The Russian foreign ministry said NATO`s decision on Friday to deploy a new rapid response force that could stand up to Putin`s expansionist threat "only confirms the alliance`s unquestioning backing of Kiev`s neo-fascist and extremist forces".

Russia`s apparent shock at the February ouster of an allied president in bloody Kiev protests translated into Putin`s decision in March to seize Ukraine`s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and then offer diplomatic backing to the eastern revolts.

But public support for the insurgents in the two predominantly Russians-speaking regions had seemed limited in the first weeks of the war.

Poroshenko won more than a third of the eastern vote in May 25 presidential election that he clinched in the first round. The main pro-Kremlin contender picked up just three percent of the ballot nationwide. Lugansk and Donetsk have formed the heart of Ukraine`s economy for decades thanks to vast coal mines and powerful factories that account for a quarter of national exports -- an impressive figure considering they make up a just sixth of the country`s population of 45 million.

The regions have also contributed to a healthy portion of the government`s tax revenues. That money`s absence has exacerbated a recent economic implosion that has further tested the patience of war-wary residents across the east.

Russia has called on Poroshenko to transform Ukraine into a federation with broad regional powers that could make them into effective Russian fiefdoms.

Putin stepped up pressure further by demanding discussion about eastern "statehood" when the rebels mounted a ferocious counter-offensive last week.

Several sources close to the negotiations told Kiev`s pro-government Ukrainska Pravda news site that the Minsk declaration refers loosely to a "decentralisation" of power but makes no reference to the federalism sought by Putin.

One of the unnamed sources said the text reserves "special status for parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions".