Sunday May 19, 2024

Ukraine under ‘continual attack’

It’s not easy to launch wide-ranging reforms while managing a major conflict: Nato

By our correspondents
May 28, 2015
KIEV: A top Nato commander said on Wednesday that “continual attacks” against Ukraine were hampering Kiev’s efforts to modernise its army enough to one day join the Western military bloc.
The Cold War-era alliance’s security chief Thrasyvoulos Terry Stamatopoulos made no direct reference to Russia — a former superpower that flatly denies allegations it is orchestrating the conflict in order to halt Ukraine’s march toward the West.
But he reaffirmed Nato’s commitment to helping the ex-Soviet country defend itself and build up an intimidating army that averts the possibility of future conflicts.
“We are well aware of the formidable challenges that Ukraine is facing,” Stamatopoulos told a defence meeting in Kiev.
“It’s not easy to launch wide-ranging reforms while managing a major conflict and deterring continual attacks against your territorial integrity,” he said.
The assistant secretary general’s visit to Kiev comes three months into a truce deal that has managed to scale down but not halt a pro-Russian uprising responsible for nearly 6,300 deaths in Ukraine’s industrial east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects accusations his generals are fomenting the insurgency to weaken the pro-Western leadership that toppled a Moscow-backed president in February 2014.
The Kremlin hopes the ceasefire’s ability to stem the worst bloodshed will prompt the European Union to lift some of the more punishing sanctions against Russia in the next few months.
Nations such as Greece and Cyprus — their own economies in peril — have balked at the idea of extending the punitive measures through the end of the year.
The latest truce leaves parts of the Russian-speaking Lugansk and Donetsk regions in the east under the insurgents’ control.
Some rebels now warn they may try to push back government forces even further should President Petro Poroshenko fail to award them permanent semi-autonomous status.
State and local officials said the latest of what have been daily clashes claimed the lives of four civilians and one Ukrainian soldier across the war zone.
Poroshenko has thus far been unable to secure offensive weapons from his allies because of Western fears about Putin’s potential response.
But Poroshenko has pushed through legislation lifting Ukraine’s neutral status and allowing the nation of 45 million to permanently host Nato troops.
Poroshenko on Wednesday also signed a new national security strategy focused on “restoring territorial integrity within the frameworks of the internationally-recognised borders of Ukraine”.
The wording implies that Ukraine still hopes to win back Crimea — seized by Moscow just weeks after its ally’s downfall in Kiev — despite Putin’s decision to deploy new forces and weapons on the disputed peninsula.
The new security document also targets “Ukraine’s integration with the European Union and creating the conditions necessary to join Nato”.
Kiev intends to apply for EU membership by 2020 but has not targeted a date by which it hoped to fall under Nato’s security umbrella.
In recent months of the eastern uprising, guerrillas have not only made significant gains on the ground but also suffered from a string of mysterious assassinations that Kiev thinks point to growing discord in the rebel ranks.
The latest shooting last weekend saw feared Prizrak (Ghost) brigade commander Alexei Mozgovoi and six of his companions slain near the same spot where he had survived another attempt on his life in March.
Mozgovoi’s burial on Wednesday in a Lugansk village called Alchevsk that he ran with an iron fist saw many mourners blame his death on rivals in the loosely-organised insurgency’s camp.
“I doubt that he was killed by Ukrainian saboteurs,” said medic Yelena Gurevich as armoured personnel carriers and a Soviet flag-draped truck loaded with a heavy machine gun led a procession of Mozgovoi supporters to the cemetery.