Fighting in Ukraine is continuing and a ceasefire signed on September 5 to end fighting between the army and pro-Russia separates is “in name only”, NATO’s top military commander said.
“The situation in Ukraine is not good right now,” US Air Force General Philip Breedlove told reporters in Vilnius.
“Basically, we have ceasefire in name only,” Breedlove, who is NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and commander of US forces in Europe, said.
“The number of events, and the number of rounds fired and the artillery used across the past few days match some of the pre-ceasefire levels. The ceasefire is still there in name, but what is happening on the ground is quite a different story.”
Breedlove said he hopes a memorandum signed on Saturday for the withdrawal of heavy weapons, including artillery, and all foreign fighters from a 30 kilometre-wide buffer zone will help calm the situation.
Under the deal, the longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can not reach one another. The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.
Al Jazeera’s Robin Forestier-Walker, report from the eastern region of Donetsk, said “today has been a day with a potential for peace, with an agreement signed in Minsk, to create a buffer zone between the side. But we’ve been still hearing shell fire and a very loud explosion was reported in Donetsk, of what may have been an munitions factory.”
A local official in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, attributed the loud explosion to a munitions factory he said was hit by an artillery shell. It was unclear which side fired it. Explosions were heard in three areas of the city in the afternoon, the city council said.
Speaking after a meeting of chiefs of defence of NATO countries, Breedlove said Russia has moved some of its forces inside Ukraine to the south to bring pressure on the port city of Mariupol.
Asked whether Russia’s objective is linking up with its forces in Crimea along the Ukrainian coast, he said: “I would not speculate on what their intention is, but they certainly have put in place a military capability to take action along that coast if they chose to do it”.
“What we do know is that, from the height of the Russian movement into Ukraine over a week ago, the numbers have come down significantly and some of those forces have returned back to the Russian side of the border. Which is good, except for that they haven’t returned home and are still available to bring their military force to bear on Ukraine should it be desired,” he said.
“That force is completely capable of doing what it did a little over a week ago, which is cross its border and impose its military will on the Ukrainian military.”
This possibility is stoking Kiev’s concern regarding 180 trucks that have crossed over from Russia into Ukraine in Donetsk. Al Jazeera’s Forestier-Walker said that the people, some of whom look “like civilians while others look like rebel militias,” have been offloading tinned beef, sugar, and tinned sardines and grains.
“We’ve been told that it is intended for those most in need, those affected by the fighting, but some will be destined for the rebels,” he said, adding that the Ukrainian side has “not been wildly enthusiastic” about this delivery, which is Russia’s third into Ukraine.
“The Red Cross were not able to oversee the shipment, and there is a suspicion, particularly on the Ukrainian side, that with Russia’s involvement, that the delivery may be carrying more than just humanitarian aid,” he said.