BREAKING NEWS: Ukraine troops pull back from a key town as truce falters

VIOLENCE THREATENS CEASEFIRE:  WATCH VIDEO

 

(CNN)Ukraine’s military said Wednesday that 80% of Ukrainian armed forces have now pulled out of a strategic railroad hub that’s been the focus of bitter fighting with pro-Russian separatists.

The two sides have been battling for weeks for control of Debaltseve, and continued conflict there has undermined a truce that apparently went into effect Sunday, raising concerns it is all but dead.

The ramifications for the West are huge because the 10-month-long conflict in eastern Ukraine has hiked tensions with Russia to a level not seen since the end of the Cold War, affecting trade and raising the specter of Russian expansion into Eastern Europe.

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh called the loss of Debaltseve a huge blow to the Ukrainian government and a win for the separatist militants, who regarded it already as their territory when the front lines for the ceasefire were drawn. It’s not yet clear how Kiev will respond.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, in a taped statement, said Ukrainian armed forces in the area had left Debaltseve according to plan and that Kiev was waiting for two remaining columns to pull back to the new defensive line.

Shelling hits pipeline in Ukraine

Shelling hits pipeline in Ukraine 01:38

“Debaltseve was under our control, there was no encirclement, and our troops left the area in a planned and organized manner with all the heavy weaponry,” he said, according to his office.

Poroshenko said in his conversations with U.S. and European Union leaders he had called for “a firm reaction from the world to Russia’s brutal violation of the Minsk agreements,” referring to the ceasefire agreed upon in Belarus.

The President, wearing a camouflage jacket, said he was on his way to the front line to meet with some of the soldiers who have pulled back. “I will be honored to shake their hands,” he said.

Ukrainian defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko told a Kiev news conference that the “organized retreat” from Debaltseve should be complete “within hours.”

The official news agency of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, DAN, earlier quoted separatists as saying there had been a large handover of weapons to the separatist forces in Debaltseve.

Deserted Ukrainian positions

CNN’s Paton Walsh, who is near Debaltseve, said deserted roads in the area are strewn with the wreckage of what, only hours earlier, were Ukrainian military positions.

A CNN team passed a checkpoint that had been obliterated as well as an armored personnel carrier that seemed to have been hit by a large explosion. What appeared to be the bodies of two Ukrainian soldiers could be seen there.

Only kilometers away from Debaltseve, the kind of intense shelling that would be expected with bitter fighting could no longer be heard.

It’s not clear where the civilians who were trapped by the conflict will go now, Paton Walsh said. The separatists have said they may try to evacuate them later, he said, but they would have to pass through areas that are still contested.

Speaking after news of the withdrawal, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine.

“I urge Russia to withdraw all its forces from eastern Ukraine, to stop all its support for the separatists and to respect the Minsk agreement … and to also use all its influence on the separatists to make them respect the ceasefire,” he told reporters in Riga, Latvia.

Russia has steadfastly denied allegations by Kiev and the West that it is sending heavy weaponry and troops over the border into eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov: Don’t use Debaltseve as an excuse to derail peace process

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow that Russian President Vladimir Putin had tried to highlight the danger to thousands of Ukrainian troops encircled in Debaltseve before the ceasefire agreement was signed, but that Poroshenko had denied they were trapped.

The main goal now must be to save the troops’ lives, he said.

Lavrov suggested that outside Debaltseve, the weekend ceasefire had taken hold. “Across all conflict lines we can see hostilities have ceased and heavy armor started to be moved,” he said.

He urged Kiev and the West not to try to use the situation in Debaltseve as “an excuse to derail the process,” saying such reasoning had been used in the past to hinder peace efforts.

OSCE monitors insist on access to Debaltseve

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire and a supposed withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides to create a buffer zone, has not been able to gain access to Debaltseve because of the continued conflict.

The chief monitor of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, said Tuesday that he was “profoundly disturbed” by reports from the town. His monitors plan to try to gain access again Wednesday.

“I am especially concerned about the civilian population of the town,” Apakan said. “The sides have a duty to them as well and to each other to adhere strictly to the ceasefire.

Ukraine: Russia has 'full control' over separatists

Ukraine: Russia has ‘full control’ over separatists 05:37

“I condemn any attempts to create new facts on the ground, and so to change the basis on which the latest package of measures has been agreed.”

He pointed the finger at the separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk, saying that they had effectively denied the OSCE monitors access to Debaltseve, and urged them to end their offensive and allow “unfettered access.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Wednesday that the separatists’ actions in Debaltseve were “a clear violation of the ceasefire” and called for the OSCE observers to be allowed in.

“The separatists must stop all military activities. Russia and the separatists have to immediately and fully implement the commitments agreed to in Minsk,” she said.

“The EU stands ready to take appropriate action in case the fighting and other negative developments in violation of the Minsk agreements continue.”

Diplomats urge parties to abide by truce

Diplomats in New York scrambled Tuesday to shore up the shaky ceasefire agreement, hammered out by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany last week in Minsk.

In a call with Poroshenko, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned that if Russia continues to violate the Minsk agreements, “the costs to Russia will rise,” according to a White House statement.

Lavrov dismissed Biden’s words as “just another example of how the American position is not constructive.”

Village under fire

In the beleaguered village of Shyrokyno, Ukrainian forces are struggling to keep control of territory.

Mortar shelling and small arms battles broke out in Shyrokyno on Wednesday morning. Two Ukrainian soldiers were injured, Dmytro Chalov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s army in the Mariupol sector, told CNN.

Violence in Ukraine

Violence in Ukraine 02:21
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“Right now, only about a third of the village is under our control,” a machine gunner named Yury told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen a day earlier.

Oleg Shiryayev, commander of Ukraine’s East Corpus battalion, said the ceasefire “is a farce.”

“The fighting is continuing now the way it did before,” Shiryayev told Pleitgen. “They continue to attack us, shell us; they use artillery, mortars.”

But it’s impossible to tell which side is responsible for breaking the ceasefire in Shyrokyno.

To some residents, it doesn’t matter.

“The fighting is very heavy. All the windows (of) our house are broken,” one woman said. “It is very terrifying. We saved all our lives to buy our house, and now we have nothing.”

Ukraine crisis & corruption: Joe Biden “warns” Russia faces ‘isolation’

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Birds of a feather flock together

An obscure private Ukrainian natural gas company has been hiring friends and family of Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, while seeking to influence Congress ~ The Time Magazine

US Vice President Joe Biden has warned that Russia faces “rising costs and greater isolation” if it fails to respect peace deals in Ukraine.

Mr Biden, on another visit to Ukraine, said Russia continued to violate ceasefires.

He was speaking after holding talks with President Petro Poroshenko, whose corrupted government pushed to have Biden’s son hired by an obscure private Ukrainian natural gas company.

According to The Time magazine, the company has been hiring friends and family of Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, while seeking to influence Congress.

The Time:

Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, joined the board of a private Ukrainian oil and natural gas company this spring, he explained his new job as a legal one, disconnected from any effort to influence the Obama Administration. In a press release,  he boasted of his abilities on issues like “improving corporate transparency”  The Time wrote.

But the company, Burisma Holdings, did not disclose at the time the scope of their plans for influencing the U.S. government. Recently released documents show that Biden’s hiring coincided with the launch of a new effort to lobby members of Congress about the role of the company in Ukraine and the country’s quest for energy independence.

David Leiter, a former Senate chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, signed on to work as a lobbyist for Burisma on May 20, 2014, about a week after Biden announced he was joining the company, according to lobbying disclosures filed this month.

Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.

Biden’s office referred questions to a Burisma spokesman, who says Biden has not been involved in contacting members of Congress or the Obama Administration about the company. “His role, like all board members, is to provide strategic guidance to Burisma,” said Lawrence Pacheco, who works in Washington D.C. for FTI Consulting, a communications firm that is also employed by Burisma.

But Burisma is contacting officials in Washington through Leiter’s lobbying firm, ML Strategies. “ML Strategies is working with Burisma to educate U.S. officials about the company and its role in creating a stable and secure energy future for Ukraine, not any specific policy or legislation,” Pacheco said. “Burisma supports energy independence, economic growth, national sovereignty and regional stability and will engage as needed to encourage efforts to further these goals.”

Some Democratic senators, meanwhile, have been working to secure more U.S. funding, either directly or through entities like the Export-Import Bank, to improve Ukraine’s domestic energy production potential. On June 27, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, wrote President Obama a letter with three other Democratic senators calling for increased aid. “We should leverage the full resources and expertise of the U.S. government to assist Ukraine in improving its energy efficiency, increasing its domestic production, and reforming its energy markets,” wrote Markey, who has also proposed legislation with about $40 million in additional aide for Ukranian energy development.

Markey’s letter was trumpeted by Burisma Holdings as a commendable move towards securing the future security of Ukraine. “Burisma Holdings today applauded the range of U.S. legislative support for development of Ukraine’s broad and untapped resources and an increase in transparency and good governance,” the company said in a statement on the day the letter was released.

An aide in Markey’s office told TIME that Leiter, Biden and Archer were not part of discussions that led to the drafting of the letter or the legislation. Staff for the other senators who signed the letter, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, also said they did not have contact with Leiter, who could not be reached for comment.

 
Burisma Holdings is owned by a Cypriot holding firm, Brociti Investments Limited, which is controlled Nikolai Zlochevskyi, a former Ukranian government minister, according to Cypriot records. It controls government development licenses in three regions of Ukraine, and sells to industrial customers in the country, according to the company.

By taking a job with Burisma, the younger Biden has put himself in the middle of a struggle between the United States and Russia, which currently provides the bulk of the natural gas supplies to Ukraine. Both the White House and European nations have recently emphasized the strategic interest in making Ukraine less dependent on Russia.

Since Hunter Biden took the new job, his father, Vice President Joe Biden, has continued to serve as the Obama Administration’s point person on Ukraine, traveling to the country as recently as June for the inauguration of President Petro Poroshenko and talking to Poroshenko by phone at least five times in the last month.

“I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the last two months in Ukraine,” the elder Biden said on June 19. “You see what the Russians are doing relative to using gas as a foreign policy tool to try to alter behavior. And so it’s — around the world in varying degrees it’s of significant consequence in terms of security, both economic and political security of a nation.”

There is no legal barrier to prohibit Hunter Biden from working with a company that can be impacted by the policy decisions of his father, and the White House has maintained that the Vice President has not been influenced by his son’s employment. “The Vice President does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company,” said his spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff.

But Hunter Biden’s new job, along with the association with Burisma of other politically-connected businessmen, has raised concerns among some Ukraine watchers. “It’s unhelpful when we are trying to get across to the Ukrainians to clean up corruption and special deals for special folks,” said Ed Chow, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank. “It maybe sends the wrong message that Westerners are just hypocritical.”

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke Miller/Washington

READ THE TIME ENTIRE ARTICLE

 

 

Some 4,300 people are thought to have died in eastern Ukraine’s conflict since April. Russia is regularly accused of arming separatist rebels, but its officials deny the allegations.

Mr Biden is in Kiev on the first anniversary of the start of mass protests that culminated in President Viktor Yanukovych relinquishing power.

We’ve agreed to Ukraine gas delivery terms’ – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin

Ukraine and Russia agree on $385 gas price for winter

 

Reuters / Gleb Garanich

Reuters / Gleb Garanich

 

RT news

Published October 20, 2014

 

Moscow and Kiev have confirmed the price of Russian gas to Ukraine until the end of March at $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, according to both Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“We have agreed on a price for the next 5 months, and Ukraine will be able to buy as much gas as it needs, and Gazprom is ready to be flexible on the terms,” Lavrov said Monday at a public lecture.

Russia’s foreign minister dispelled rumors of two separate prices, one for winter and one for summer.

“At the Europe-Asia summit in Milan, there was no talk of summer or winter gas prices, but just about the next 5 months,” the foreign minister said.

Included in the $385 price is a $100 discount by Russia. Ukraine is still insisting on a further discount, asking for $325 for ‘summer prices’ after the 5-month winter period.

“We talked about how there should be two prices, like how the European spot market has two prices, a winter price when demand is high, and summer when demand is low. Our joint proposal with the EU was the following: $325 per thousand cubic meters in the summer and $385 per thousand cubic meters in the winter,“ Poroshenko said in an interview on Ukrainian television Saturday.

President Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached a preliminary agreement in Milan on Friday for the winter period, but Russia won’t deliver any gas to its neighbor without prepayment.

Gas talks are expected to continue Tuesday in Berlin between the energy ministers of Russia, Ukraine, and the EU. On September 26, the three energy ministers agreed to provide 5 billion cubic meters to Ukraine on a “take-or-pay” contract, to help the country survive the winter months.

The so-called winter plan is contingent on Ukraine starting to repay at least $3.1 billion worth of debt to Gazprom.

Ukraine is still looking for funding to pay for the gas supplies as well as its $4.5 billion arrears to Russia’s state-owned gas company. Moscow reduced the debt from $5.5 billion to $4.5 billion, calculating in the discount of gas, Putin said on Friday.

Moscow believes the European Commission or the International Monetary Fund should provide loans for this purpose.

Russia turned off the gas to Europe via Ukraine in 2006 and in 2009, over similar pricing disputes with Kiev. This poses a risk to Europe, which receives 15 percent of its gas through Ukraine.