NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday that the ceasefire in Ukraine had been violated more that 5,600 times in the past few days, as the death toll rose to 19 on the fourth day of intensified fighting.
The Ukrainian government reported that three of its soldiers had died last night while separatist fighters claimed three civilians had been killed.
Stoltenberg appealed to Russia to wield its "considerable influence" over the rebels in the eastern section of the country in order to halt "the most serious spike in violence in a long time."
Stoltenberg also took to Twitter to call for an immediate end to the ceasefire violations.
Ceasefire violations amidst freezing temperatures
The ceasefire was part of the February 2015 Minsk agreement, a tentative peace agreement between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist fighters brokered in the Belarusian capital. The agreement also called for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contested region. Though sporadic fighting has undermined its efficacy, international leaders continue to cling to it as the best hope for achieving peace in the region.
Stoltenberg appealed to all involved groups, stating that "all parties should implement their commitments under the Minsk agreements in full."
The recent escalation in violence possibly represents the most serious threat to the ceasefire since it was put in place. Over the weekend, fighting flared up in the eastern town of Avdiivka as government and Russian-backed separatists exchanged mortar and rocket fire. The violence in Avdiivka, which lies close to the rebel capital of Donetsk, has left around 20,000 people without heat or hot water in the midst of winter temperatures falling as low as minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit).
International leaders worried
Stoltenberg's appeal to Moscow comes amidst European worries that a Putin-friendly Trump administration may weaken US support for Ukrainian government forces.
It also echoes the previous days' statements by various international organizations and leaders, including the UN Security Council and the European Union, expressing concern over the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine.
Germany calls for ceasefire
The German government also added their voice to the chorus of worried leaders, calling on both the government and rebel forces to immediately end the violence and to allow badly needed humanitarian aid to reach civilians.
"Both sides are urgently called upon to respect the agreed-upon ceasefire and cease their mutual provocations," German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday in Berlin.
Nearly 10,000 individuals, more than half of them civilians, have died since the conflict's outbreak in April 2014.
cmb/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)