Vladimir Putin: War between Ukraine and Russia 'unlikely' as rebels mass outside Mariupol

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Vladimir Putin: War between Ukraine and Russia 'unlikely' as rebels mass outside Mariupol - Telegraph

Vladimir Putin has said he thinks the prospect of all-out war between Russia and Ukraine is unlikely.

Asked in an interview with Russian state television if he thought the current situation could lead to war, the Russian president said: “I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope that it will never happen.

“If the Minsk accords [agreeing a ceasefire] are complied with, then I am sure that the situation will gradually get back to normal.”

He added: “No one needs a conflict, moreover an armed one, on the periphery of Europe.”

His comments came as pro-Russia separatists said on Tuesday they had begun withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline under the recent ceasefire deal - but the Ukrainian military, which says it will not pull back until fighting stops, reported further rebel shelling.

Fighting has certainly eased in eastern Ukraine in recent days after the rebels initially ignored a ceasefire that was due to start on Feb. 15 and stormed the government-held town of Debaltseve.

After taking the town, the Moscow-backed rebels have consistently indicated they want the truce to take effect.

"Today at 9 in the morning (0600 GMT) the planned withdrawal of heavy equipment started," rebel commander Eduard Basurin told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We're pulling it back 50 km from the boundary line ... Of course we won't say exactly where we're pulling it back to."

However, Kiev claimed pro-Russian forces massing near Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol continued to attack government troop positions.

Continued hostilities meant a pullback of heavy weapons could not go ahead as agreed, Ukrainian officials said.

“As Ukrainian positions are still being fired upon there can be no talk yet of a withdrawal of arms,” Vladyslav Seleznyov, military spokesman, wrote in a statement on Facebook on Monday.

Interactive: Ukraine Mariupol

Tensions were also high following a bomb blast Sunday in the normally peaceful eastern city of Kharkiv. In their latest toll, authorities said that three people had died in the “terrorist” attack.

Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, plummeted some 10 per cent on Monday because of the instability.

The West has warned of additional sanctions on Russia should the shaky truce deteriorate further, especially after rebels captured the strategic town of Debaltseve last week in defiance of the ceasefire slated to start February 15.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, tasked with monitoring the truce, “concludes that the ceasefire is not holding in critical, strategic points” including near Mariupol and in Debaltseve, Alexander Hug, the deputy head of the OSCE mission, told France 24 television.

A meeting of the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France was scheduled to take place in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the truce’s implementation.

However a source in the Ukrainian foreign ministry raised doubt, saying Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, “intends to go to the meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] but the situation might change.”

Colonel Valentyn Fedichev, a Ukrainian military commander, said that, while the number of attacks had generally decreased across the conflict zone, troop positions were still fired upon 27 times since Sunday. Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 10 wounded, he said.

Insurgent fighters “have not halted attempts to assault our positions in the town of Shyrokine and the Mariupol area,” Col Fedichev said.

Other defence officials said the rebels fired mortars into Shyrokine, which neighbours Mariupol, in an apparent attempt to provoke troops into firing back in violation of the ceasefire.

Kiev has alleged Russia sent 20 tanks towards Mariupol, a port city of half a million residents on the Azov Sea coast, and that two tank attacks occurred there on Sunday.

Ukraine's currency against the dollar in the last three months on Monday, February 23

Moscow denies giving military support to the rebels. However it made the same denials over Crimea – the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula that it annexed last year – before finally admitting that it had deployed troops.

If Mariupol were to fall to the pro-Russian rebels, it would remove a key obstacle to creating a separatist land corridor stretching from Russia’s border with Ukraine to Crimea.

The United States and the EU, however, have strongly warned against further breaches of the ceasefire, with Washington saying extra sanctions could be imposed on Russia within days.

“An advance on Mariupol would clearly be in breach of the agreements” underpinning the truce brokered by Berlin and Paris, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, said in an interview with his country’s Bild newspaper.

Steffen Seibert, German government spokesman, said: “It fills us with concern that there is still no comprehensive truce.”

Germany and France brokered the truce this month in the Belarus capital Minsk, and it was subsequently endorsed by the UN Security Council.

Up to now, the main compliance with the Minsk agreement has been a prisoner swap conducted on Saturday in which nearly 200 captured fighters from both sides were traded.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said during a visit to Estonia that, “from the experience of the last 10 to 12 days, the Russian engagement in the Minsk [truce] process is rather cynical.”

He expressed a “high degree of scepticism about a Russian commitment to achieving genuine peace in Ukraine on anything but terms unilaterally dictated from the Kremlin”.

Russia has already been hit by successive rounds of Western sanctions that are savaging its economy, which is headed for recession because of a collapse in oil prices.
 
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This goes to support my other case that he was just "chest puffing" and keeping appearances for appearances sake on the other thread entitled "Russia Ups the Ante" and people were hoping that I was right saying they hoped it was plain arrogance or planned agenda. I think it's highly unlikely, but people still will entertain every possibility - and should, to be on their toes.
 
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I get the impression that the Ukrainian government is being manipulated with the power disparity between it and Russia used as leverage. In light of the previous violations of agreements, any word from the Kremlin should be taken with a generous dollop of salt.
 
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True, they should be taken lightly like a grain of sand, but however the fact remains is he doesn't want to expose Russia to full outscale war with anyone because he knows the different organisations would step in and stop it and nobody wants that. Maybe if they piss him off enough, perhaps.
 
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Is there anyone who still trusts Putin? I mean, he can say anything, but who knows what is really happening in his mind. This man can't be trusted after what he did last year.