Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko has publicly asked Russia to withdraw its troops from his country, the day after a Russian general said a small Russian military mission in eastern Ukraine was there at the invitation of Kiev.
Poroshenko made his remarks during a visit to Australia on Thursday where he was holding talks on the supply of coal and uranium in a bid to ease the suffering felt in energy-starved Ukraine.
"Please stop the fire. Please release the hostages. Please withdraw your troops from my territory," Poroshenko said in a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
- A small team of Russian military personnel called the JCCC (Joint Centre for Control & Coordination) has been in Ukraine since October 9.
- They were invited by Ukraine as part of the 'special status' granted to the Donbas region.
- OSCE says they have had limited contact with the group.
- The JCCC has complained to the OSCE over the conditions they are being asked to work in, including damp buildings and malfunctioning phone lines.
- The OSCE says the JCCC's mandate is 'unclear', but is supposedly there to bring together the conflicting parties.
"Please close the border. And I promise if you close the border, within one, two, three weeks, we have peace and stability in Ukraine. Very simple."
Poroshenko made his plea two days after a 'Day of Silence' resulted in a dramatic decrease in cross-border shelling, although some breaches of the ceasefire were still reported by Ukraine's military.
Rebels in turn accused Ukrainian forces of sporadic violations of the truce that began on Tuesday.
The 'Day of Silence' was seen as a means to reawaken a struggling truce agreed during talks in Minsk in September, but which had been repeatedly violated.
The reduction in violence was followed on Wednesday by the announcement that Russia has a military presence in the troubled Donbas region, at the invitation of Ukraine.
The Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC) arrived in eastern Ukraine about October 9, and is reportedly assisting the OSCE security group in efforts to secure peace, RIA news agency said.
General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, told a meeting with foreign diplomats in Moscow that "representatives of Russian Armed Forces" had been sent to the town of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine at the request of Ukraine's Joint Staff.
Echoing remarks by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week, Gerasimov said their mission was, together with the OSCE, to help find "a compromise decision on de-escalating tensions and withdrawing troops from the line of contact."
"I will say it openly, the process is not easy. If it were not for constant external meddling by the representatives of many European countries, NATO members and the United States, the problematic issues would be solved much more quickly," he said.
It is based in Debaltseve, about 70km northeast of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies