Poroshenko pays solidarity visit to flashpoint Ukraine town

Mr Poroshenko vowed that the port of Mariupol, the only major city in the conflict zone still controlled by the government, would remain part of Ukraine despite a rapid rebel advance.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, centre, shakes hands with a worker during his visit to the Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in the southern coastal town of Mariupol on Monday. Mr Poroshenko visited the eastern Ukrainian port of Mariupol in a show of solidarity with its embattled citizens and vowed to defend it from pro-Russian separatists who advanced towards it last week before a ceasefire agreement. Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

MARIUPOL, Ukraine // Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said on Monday it was impossible to win the conflict in the east by force alone, as he paid a visit of solidarity to a city that has become the latest front line in the war.

Mr Poroshenko vowed that the port of Mariupol, the only major city in the conflict zone still controlled by the government, would remain part of Ukraine despite a rapid rebel advance.

It was his first visit as president to the strategic industrial city since the pro-Russian insurgency erupted in April and came just three days after the signing of a truce between the government and the rebels.

Mr Poroshenko said the insurgents had begun shelling checkpoints outside the city after learning that he intended to visit.

“They thought they would frighten me. But no one is afraid of them,” said Mr Poroshenko, dressed in military fatigues for the trip.

“It is our land. We will not give it up to anyone.”

In his most substantive comments since the truce was signed on Friday, Mr Poroshenko said the quickest way to achieve “stability and peace” in Ukraine was simple.

“Withdraw foreign troops and close the border and within a week we will find a compromise ... I think the peace initiative is bringing us to this result,” he said.

“It is impossible to win the conflict just by military means. The more we increase the pressure, the more Russian troops are on our territory.”

Mr Poroshenko also announced the release of 1,200 captives held by rebels, although it was not immediately clear if this was part of the ceasefire backed by Kiev and Moscow that was signed in Minsk on Friday.

He said there had been 10-12 violations of the truce each day but that if the accord was bringing home prisoners of war and saving the lives of civilians and soldiers “this means the ceasefire works”.

“I think we win (the war) but ... more accurately we win the peace,” he said.

Mr Poroshenko also met members of volunteer groups defending the city against the advance of pro-Russian separatists.

“Of course there is danger, nobody can tell you that the ceasefire I obtained with so much difficulty will totally protect us.”

EU officials called a fresh meeting to discuss a new round of sanctions against Moscow over the crisis after failing to reach unanimous agreement on the measures.

European capitals were supposed to give formal approval to the sanctions, which include limiting access to financial markets by Russian oil giants, but had failed to do so.

The delay comes as some of the EU’s newer member states in eastern Europe, still dependent on Russian trade and energy ties, were uneasy at ratcheting up the sanctions.

When EU officials agreed to the new sanctions package on Friday, EU heads Herman Van Rompuy and José Manuel Barroso had left open the possibility they could be lifted quickly if the ceasefire held, setting the stage for further peace efforts.

Diplomatic sources said the differences apparently revolved around this point, with some member states seeking to incorporate language in the sanctions text that would keep options open for lifting the sanctions.

“We are looking for a formula which takes developments on the ground into account,” a source said.

* Agence France-Presse