Rebels reject Ukrainian leader’s call for cease-fire
Published: June 18, 2014 08:18PM
Updated: June 18, 2014 09:00PM
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Pro-Russian fighters wave a white flag to start a handover of the bodies of Ukrainian troops killed in a plane shot down near Luhansk, at a check point in the village of Karlivka near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The two sides managed to arrange a brief truce Wednesday evening in the eastern town of Karlivka to allow pro-Russian forces to hand over the bodies of 49 Ukrainian troops who died when the separatists shot down a transport plane bound for the airport in Luhansk last weekend. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Donetsk, Ukraine • After Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday that he might soon order a temporary, unilateral cease-fire as part of a broader 14-point peace plan, it took all of several seconds for pro-Russian militants to rule it out.

“I am a condemned man,” said a stick-thin fighter who, like many others here, identified himself only by an alias, Tarik, for security reasons.

Sipping tea in the gloom of the lobby of Donetsk’s rebel-occupied administration building Wednesday, he patted the magazine of the automatic rifle slung across his chest.

Any cease-fire would certainly be violated by the Ukrainian army, he said, adding that he and other pro-Russian separatists would be arrested the minute the government had the opportunity.

“What peace can they possibly offer me?” he asked. “If they want peace, then they can leave.”

Tarik and a dozen other rank-and-file fighters here reacted to Poroshenko’s proposal with a dark, belligerent skepticism. Most rejected the idea of disarming until a patchwork of amorphous conditions were met, suggesting that a truce would be awfully difficult to achieve.

Some demanded that the Ukrainian military leave the region, called Donbass, while others wanted a war tribunal for Ukraine’s newly elected leaders. Most said they wanted the restoration of “stability,” the precise definition of which remained elusive.

“Maybe there was a way back when this all just started, when the people were out here with the flags to make their point, and before the killing,” said Denis, a separatist fighter from Makeyevka, a depressed industrial town outside of Donetsk, when asked how and when the conflict might be resolved.

Another fighter jumped in helpfully.

“The Third World War,” he said to nods of assent.

None said he was ready to lay down his arms.

The responses seemed to afford little hope that, as Poroshenko urged, a cease-fire “should receive support from all participants in the events in Donbass.” Toward that end, the president’s office announced that Poroshenko would meet Thursday with what his office called the “legitimate” leaders from the east, including mayors and business representatives.

The Russian government has called repeatedly for Ukraine to stop its military crackdown on the separatists but has also insisted that it does not control, or speak for, the separatists.

But rebel leaders, some of whom were in Moscow on Wednesday, quickly dismissed Poroshenko’s proposal. Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the political wing of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said in television appearances in Moscow that he thought it was “pointless,” suggesting it was the latest trick by Kiev to subdue the fighters.

Another rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, told Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian newspaper that regularly carries his statements, that Ukraine had already violated the cease-fire, although officially it had not yet even been declared.

In Kiev, Poroshenko told reporters that he planned to announce the cease-fire as part of a wider peace plan to end the more than two months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, where, the United Nations reported Wednesday, at least 356 people are known to have died.

Poroshenko’s discussion of the peace plan followed a phone call late Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, in which both sides said the cease-fire was a main topic.

Other elements of Poroshenko’s plan include sealing the border with Russia and amending the Ukrainian Constitution to allow for a “decentralization” plan that will give more authority to local governments.

The initial step, however, would be a halt to the Ukrainian military’s so-called antiterrorist operation against the pro-Russian militias, whose ranks include some Russian citizens who crossed the border to join the fight. Senior Russian officials have long insisted that any peace effort begin with such a step.

Also Wednesday, Poroshenko nominated Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Pavlo Klimkin, as foreign minister and asked Parliament to confirm him. Klimkin, a former deputy foreign minister, had an important role in negotiating the political and economic accords with the European Union that Viktor Yanukovych, then the president, refused to sign IN November after long promising to do so, setting off months of civil unrest. Poroshenko has vowed to complete those agreements in the coming weeks.

Poroshenko also told reporters that he was awaiting a decision from lawmakers on holding early parliamentary elections, which he said were favored by 70 percent of Ukrainians.

Even on the eve of Poroshenko’s statements, heavy fighting in the Luhansk region Tuesday left 27 injured and several dead, including two Russian state television journalists, according to a police spokeswoman for the region.