MOSCOW (dpa) – Ukrainian combat troops on Tuesday launched an attack on pro-Russian separatists east of the port city of Mariupol, one day before the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are due to discuss a fresh ceasefire.
National Guard units broke through the opponent’s defences, Ukraine’s National Security Council said, adding that council secretary Oleksandr Turchynov was in Mariupol to coordinate the fighting.
The Azov volunteer battalion, which is part of the National Guard and has controlled the area since May, said its forces have taken a number of villages east of the city and would press on towards the town of Novoazovsk.
It was the first time that Ukraine has said its troops are attacking since a ceasefire was declared in September.
That truce has largely gone unheeded, but Germany and France are spearheading a new peace drive, and their talks with Ukraine and Russia are planned Wednesday in the Belarussian capital, Minsk.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Wednesday’s summit will only take place if all parties agree to the details of the new truce, proposed last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Moscow’s Russian News Service radio station Tuesday that the summit’s preparations are ongoing. He did not elaborate.
Observers said a key hurdle for the talks is a meeting Tuesday in Minsk between separatist representatives and the so-called Ukraine contact group, which consists of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who represents Kiev in the group, is flying to Minsk Tuesday afternoon, the Interfax Belarus news agency reported.
Fighting also continued elsewhere in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.