Officials in Ukraine on Friday reported 41 attacks by Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian army positions in the war-torn Donbas region have occurred since midnight on Thursday, despite a cease-fire agreement. One of the attacks fatally wounded a Ukrainian soldier.
“The armed forces of the Russian Federation and its mercenaries violated the ceasefire 41 times on October 3. During an enemy attack in the Joint Forces Operation (JFO) area, a soldier received a wound incompatible with life,” said a Friday morning statement from the JFO.
“Since midnight, Russia-led forces have opened fire on Ukrainian positions three times near Pavlopil, Zaitseve, and Krymske, using 82mm mortars, cannons installed on infantry fighting vehicles, and rifles,” the JFO said, noting that the heavier weapons are “proscribed under the Minsk agreements,” ostensibly accepted by Moscow as the roadmap to peace in the region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed this week to hold elections in eastern Donbas and grant special legal status to the separatist-controlled region if Russia removes all military forces from the area, a major concession ostensibly welcomed by Moscow.
The offer was made at considerable political risk to Zelensky, who faces internal criticism for giving too much away to the untrustworthy Russians and their separatist allies.
One of the candidates Zelensky defeated for the presidency, Yulia Tymoshenko, said on Thursday that Zelensky’s offer of elections and some form of autonomy for eastern Donbas was “unacceptable” and posed “a direct threat to our country’s national security, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.”
Zelensky’s other defeated opponent, former President Petro Poroshenko, derided the proposal as “Putin’s formula,” a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Poroshenko said Zelensky risked legitimizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and occupation of Donbas, which would become “an anchor blocking Ukraine’s aspirations” to join the European Union.
A substantial protest was held in Kyiv against Zelensky’s plan on Tuesday, with hundreds of demonstrators chanting “No to capitulation!” Those unhappy with the proposal said it rewards Russia and the separatists for years of violating the Minsk accords, begins a political process that would likely end with Russia absorbing at least the Donbas region, and demands no firm concessions from the Russians in return.
Zelensky insisted the withdrawal of Russian forces from Donbas would be worth giving the separatists the election they want. “There can be no elections at machine-gun point. If someone is out there, there will be no elections,” he said.
Zelensky added that his proposal included unspecified “red lines” the Russians would not be allowed to cross.
The separatists themselves made it clear before launching their overnight attacks that they would not accept any deal for limited autonomy.
“It will be we who decide the language we speak, what kind of economy we have, how our judicial system will be formed, how our people’s militia will be defending our citizens, and how we will be integrated into Russia,” militant leaders in Donbas declared in a statement rejecting Zelensky’s proposal.
The Kremlin indicated on Friday that it saw Zelensky’s proposal as a “positive thing” and said Moscow is still interested in an “all-for-all prisoner swap” with Ukraine as a step toward peace.