Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Ukraine’s insistence of not pulling back heavy weapons from the conflict zone until pro-Russian separatists observe a full ceasefire, and called Ukraine’s stand on the issue “ridiculous.”
The Russian leader added that threats of fresh sanctions against Moscow from Western powers served as evidence that the United States and the European Union are not interested in a ceasefire. Lavrov also accused Western powers of producing "laughable demands" about the ongoing truce, which is part of the Minsk agreement between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces.
"Behind these calls lies the unwillingness of these figures, these relevant countries, the United States, the European Union, to seek the implementation of what was agreed in Minsk on February 12," Lavrov said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), adding: "They are trying to whip up hysterical sentiment, to deflect attention from the need to follow the Minsk agreement."
The comments come as the rebels are reportedly preparing to take control over the eastern city of Mariupol. Earlier this week, France and Germany had threatened fresh sanctions against Russia if the rebels attacked the city, which lies in southeastern Ukraine, on the Sea of Azov.
"Everyone understands that there isn't an ideal truce and an ideal regime of ceasing fire," Lavrov said, according to AFP, referring to Ukraine’s demand for the rebels to pull back first. Lavrov added that the threats of fresh sanctions had come despite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reporting reduced fighting in the east.
Ukraine’s military spokesman Lt. Col. Anatoliy Stelmakh said on Thursday that there were relatively fewer ceasefire violations during the night but violence in the region continued with the shelling of the village of Pisky on the outskirts of Donetsk, according to The Associated Press.
"We are going to hold positions, so, we are waiting for a decision on the withdrawal of heavy weaponry," Stelmakh said, according to Sputnik News, referring to a pending order from Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, who is expected to order heavy weapons be pulled out from the region on Thursday, as part of the Minsk agreement.