The Ukrainian military and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine have missed the deadline to begin withdrawing heavy weaponry from the frontline, according to media reports. Under a ceasefire agreement negotiated by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France last week, the two warring sides had agreed to start pulling back heavy weapons on Tuesday.
However, both sides are waiting for the other to take the first step, according to a report by The Associated Press. While the Ukrainian government claimed that their troops would only pull back if the rebels cease fire, the latter reportedly alleged that Kiev has continued to target their soldiers in the strategically placed city of Debaltseve.
“We have to respond to fire, to work on destroying the enemy's fighting positions ... we are ready at any time (to start the removal of heavy weapons), we have everything ready for a mutual withdrawal. We will not do anything unilaterally -- that would make our soldiers targets,” Denis Pushilin, a spokesperson for the rebels, reportedly said, adding that they had a “moral obligation” to continue fighting.
Meanwhile, a deal to allow observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in eastern Ukraine was also reached on Tuesday, according to media reports. Although details of the purported deal have not yet been revealed, a spokesperson for the German government reportedly said that “concrete steps” toward sending OSCE monitors to Ukraine had been agreed upon during a conference call between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The German Chancellor and Ukrainian President called on the Russian President to exercise his influence on the separatists to enforce the ceasefire,” Steffen Seibert, spokesperson for the German government, said on Tuesday, according to media reports.