The ceasefire agreement in Ukraine was again on the brink of a collapse on Wednesday as Ukrainian Army was forced to vacate the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve. Meanwhile NATO has urged Russia to remove its forces from Eastern Ukraine.
More than 22 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and more than 150 were wounded in latest round of fighting at Debaltseve in the past few days. Kiev and its NATO partners have called the fighting in Debaltseve as a clear violation of the Minsk ceasefire. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that the latest fighting must not serve as an excuse to undermine the Minsk ceasefire agreement. The Russian foreign minister had talked to US Secretary of State John Kerry overnight as well as the German foreign minister. Both the leaders agreed that the ceasefire was not redundant and worth pursuing.
Ukrainian President has informed that 80% of his troops have left the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve after heavy bombardment and street battles which he said showed “the true face of the bandits and separatists who are supported by Russia”.
The strategic transport hub of Debaltseve is important because it links the two rebel-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk. Pro Russian rebels say that the ceasefire negotiated by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in Belarus does not apply to Debaltseve since the city was already a part of the breakaway enclave.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in the Latvian capital Riga urged Russia to withdraw all its forces from Eastern Ukraine and also stop its tacit support to the rebels so that the cease fire agreement can be enforced in its letter and spirit.
NATO Secretary General on Wednesday said, “Russian forces, artillery and air defense units, as well as command and control elements, are still active in Ukraine. There has been a steady build-up of tanks and armored vehicles across the border from Russia to Ukraine. The refusal of the separatists to respect the ceasefire threatens the agreement as does the denial of access to the area for OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitors.”