In Digest, Ukraine

Ukraine to close state offices, bank services in rebel-held east

By Alessandra Prentice and Pavel Polityuk, Reuters,  Nov 15, 2014

KIEV–Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued several decrees on Saturday [Nov 15] to shut state institutions and banking services in pro-Russian eastern regions, pressing a move to cut links with the rebel-held territory.

Ukraine has cut all state funding to separatist parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions after separatists held elections in late October which Poroshenko condemned as illegal and in violation of a ceasefire agreement made in September. The rebels, in turn, say Ukraine violated the deal by moving to revoke a law granting the regions autonomy, putting an already fragile ceasefire in doubt.

A decree posted on the president’s website said all state companies, institutions and organisations should end their work within a week and “evacuate workers, with their permission, (and) where possible remove property and documents”. The ruling, which formally asks parliament to revoke the “special status” of the regions, also suggests Ukraine’s central bank take measures to close down all banking services in certain parts of separatist-held areas, including card operations.

Ukraine accuses Russia of sending more soldiers and weapons to help rebels prepare for a new offensive and has cut off state funding to the war-shattered eastern regions as it refuses “to finance terrorists”. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied aiding the separatists, driving relations with Kiev to an all-time low.

A Reuters reporter saw an unidentified 40-vehicle column of military vehicles, including personnel carriers and artillery guns, travelling across separatist territory towards the rebel-held city of Luhansk on Saturday.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said seven soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours, while the press service for the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ said six civilians, including two children, were killed in shelling on Friday. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far.

The presidential rulings, which are based on decisions made by Ukraine’s Security Council, also require Ukrainian gas producers to supply all their output in the 2014-15 seasons to the population, rather than to industry. Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June over a pricing dispute and while some flows may restart in the coming weeks after a EU-brokered agreement, Ukraine still needs to take steps to conserve its insufficient reserves for the winter.

Ukraine is also facing an electricity crisis as the conflict has disrupted coal supplies to thermal power plants, which provide around 40 percent of the country’s electricity, and has left reserves critically low ahead of the cold winter months.

As a result of the latest decree, the energy ministry must now look into the possibility of buying electricity [coal] from Russia to help Ukraine shrink its gas consumption – a serious setback to the country’s efforts to reduce energy dependence on Russia.


Ukraine cuts off rebel east as fighting rumbles on

Katherine Haddon,  AFP, Nov 15, 2014

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko issued a decree Saturday ordering the withdrawal of all state services from rebel-held eastern regions, a further acknowledgement that the Kremlin-backed statelets are effectively breaking away.

The latest move towards splintering the war-torn ex-Soviet country came after fresh clashes between government troops and rebel fighters claimed at least five civilian lives, including those of two children, despite a nominal ceasefire that has failed to end the bloodshed.

The order from Poroshenko covers services such as schools, hospitals and emergency services, a senior security official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

It was announced just over a week after Kiev implemented passport controls around pro-Russian separatist areas in the east, as well as the end of state payments including pensions in the areas.

Some 5.2 million people live in areas affected by conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations, centred on major cities such as Donetsk and Lugansk where rebels have declared breakaway states.

Poroshenko told his cabinet to take steps within a week “to terminate the activities of state enterprises, institutions and organisations in the various territories where anti-terrorist operations are being conducted,” a statement on his website said.

“This is a decisive step, the games have stopped,” the security official added. “All the structures that the state finances will be withdrawn from there.”

“Ukraine will no longer finance them. This includes schools, kindergartens and hospitals.”

The decree comes with the unrest in Ukraine high on the agenda at a G20 summit in Brisbane, where Western leaders are piling fresh pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Kremlin’s backing for the rebels.

Putin intends to cut short his attendance at the summit Sunday, a source in his delegation said, after receiving a frosty reception, with Canada’s premier Stephen Harper reportedly telling him to “get out of Ukraine” in one curt exchange.

Russia denies involvement in the conflict, in which a shaky ceasefire agreed in September is in place, stopping some frontline fighting but not artillery bombardments around strategic hotspots.

– Children die in shelling –

The presidential decree also included orders for the evacuation of state workers plus the withdrawal of all courts and judges and relocation of prisoners.

In addition, it proposed that Ukraine’s central bank take steps over the next month to withdraw all banking services for businesses and individuals in the regions.

As Kiev severed more of its ties with the east, officials said five civilians, including two children, and three more Ukrainian soldiers died in the latest fighting.

The civilian deaths came in Gorlivka, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Donetsk, late Friday, the local council in the rebel-held city said.

It added that a further 12 people were also injured when artillery struck a residential area of the city, seriously damaging two apartment blocks and destroying six flats. The council did not specify who fired the mortars.

Earlier Saturday, security officials in Kiev said three more Ukrainian soldiers had been killed in fighting in the east over the past 24 hours, taking to seven the total number of servicemen killed across the region in the past day.

The casualties were the latest in the seven months of fighting that the UN says has claimed over 4,100 lives and left nearly 10,000 people wounded.


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