Poroshenko says Ukraine truce holding despite Russia 'threat'
KYIV - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoUkrainian President Petro Poroshenko told an international conference Sept. 11 that Russia remained a threat to the "entire democratic world" but that he held out hope a new truce with pro-Moscow insurgents would hold.
The Western-backed leader told an audience of about a hundred global investors and top diplomats that they must press Russian President Vladimir Putin harder to fulfil the disputed terms of a tentative peace deal to the 17-month war.
Ukraine is increasingly concerned that the European Union's attention was been diverted by its growing migrant crisis. Washington is also currently focused on implementing the new Iranian nuclear agreement and conducting strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Syria and Iraq.
Poroshenko warned that Russia was harbouring "imperialist" ambitions under Putin and trying to seize back former tsarist and Soviet lands.
"By the aggression against sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Russia has actually challenged the entire democratic world," the 49-year-old former chocolate baron told the Yalta Annual Meeting (YES) that had been held in Crimea until its annexation by Russia last year.
The meeting comes with government forces and pro-Moscow insurgents largely abiding by a new September 1 ceasefire that is meant to reinforce a broader -- but repeatedly broken -- deal signed in February in the Belarussian capital Minsk.
"The ceasefire is in place for almost two weeks and not a dream anymore," said Poroshenko.
He added that his telephone talks Wednesday with Putin and the leaders of Germany and France "strengthened my feeling of cautious optimism."
The February pact is designed to end one of Europe's deadliest conflicts in decades by the end of the year. It is also meant to give broader autonomy to the Russian-speaking Lugansk and Donetsk regions within a unified Ukraine.
But the sides have fought bitterly over how the 13-point deal should come into force.
Russia has blamed Kyiv for the political impasse and backed the separatists diplomatically in heated United Nations Security Council debates throughout the past year.
The European Union and Washington have slapped trade and personal sanctions against Russia that -- together with the recent plunge in commodity prices -- have pulled the former superpower into recession and seen its currency shed half its value since the conflict broke out.
Poroshenko told his audience that "we must make clear that... enhanced restrictive measures will follow if Russia further obstructs the settlement process."
Kyiv accuses Russia of covertly sending around 8,000 crack troops into the war zone and supplying an estimated 40,000 insurgency fighters with sophisticated rockets and heavy tanks.
Putin denies the charges and accuses the United States of orchestrating protests that led to the downfall of a Kremlin-backed president in February 2014.
Moscow annexed Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea a few weeks later. The separatist conflict broke out in April 2014.
"No one single Russian soldier, no one single Russian tanks returned back to Russia, unfortunately," said Poroshenko.
He added that the pace of Ukraine's own recovery from an economic contraction that is expected to reach nearly 10 percent this year was hard to predict because few could tell whether the heavy fighting would resume again.
"For those who try to predict Russian behaviour, I have very bad news," said Poroshenko.
"This is unpredictable. Nobody can say if Russia will continue its offensive operation."