Merkel, Putin urge new Ukraine talks
Separatist commanders are mysteriously killed one after another
10 February, 2017German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call last Tuesday to use his influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to stop the violence there, while the two leaders agreed on the need for new peace talks, news wires reported. “The German Chancellor and the Russian President agreed that new efforts must be made to secure a ceasefire and asked foreign ministers and their advisers to remain in close contact,” government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists have both blamed each other for the latest flare-up in the conflict.Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have long tried to broker an end to the conflict but the two-year-old Minsk peace deal has merely locked the two sides in a stalemate. Ukraine and NATO accuse the Kremlin of fuelling the conflict by supporting separatists with troops and weapons - a charge it denies. Kiev is nervous that US President Donald Trump will shift the political balance in Russia's favour and that he may consider lifting sanctions against Moscow.The EU last Monday insisted all parties must fully implement the Minsk ceasefire accords to restore peace in Ukraine, after US President Donald Trump stoked fresh concerns he could take a softer line on Russia. The White House also raised eyebrows by referring to “Ukraine's long-running conflict with Russia”, a framing of the situation that former national security adviser Susan Rice publicly criticised as a “distortion of recent history”.Meanwhile, two notorious separatist commanders were killed in eastern Ukraine, in a new wave of mysterious attacks. Last Tuesday, Mikhail Tolstykh, known as Givi, died in his office in Donetsk in an explosion caused by a portable rocket launcher. Three days earlier, Oleg Anashschenko, de facto defence minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), was blown up in his car while driving.Separatists blame Kiev for the killings, but according to Ukrainians most of them, including those of Givi and Anashschenko, were due to infighting among rebels. Military commentator and MP Dmytro Tymchuk suggested that Givi had begun ignoring orders, particularly during the escalation of fighting at Avdiivka last week, just outside Donetsk. Givi led the so-called Somali battalion during the rebels' successful campaign to seize control of Donetsk airport. He was one of the best-known faces among the separatists, along with Arseny Pavlov, who was blown up in a lift at a block of flats in Donetsk last October.The worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine was debated last Monday by Security and Defence Subcommittee MEPs with Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine's Vice PM for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. MEPs urged Russia to stop testing the West's reactions and go on implementing the Minsk agreements.