Pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine have rejected a peace deal meant to end months of fighting. This comes despite various European efforts to persuade the two sides to lay down their arms.
Pro-Russia separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said on Friday that far from observing a ceasefire signed in Minsk last September, the rebels now planned to press on with a military offensive against Ukrainian troops.
"Attempts to talk about a ceasefire will no longer be undertaken by our side," Zakharchenko was quoted by Russian news agencies as telling students at Donetsk University on Friday.
Zakharchenko said the rebels were advancing in three directions in the Donetsk region.
"We will hit them [Ukrainian troops] until we reach the border of Donetsk region, and ... if I see the danger for Donetsk from any other city, I will destroy this threat there," he said.
Fighting intensified last weekend with the rebels eventually wresting Donetsk airport from government troops.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed in talks in Berlin on Wednesday that a ceasefire and pullout of heavy weapons from a dividing line in eastern Ukraine should be implemented as envisaged in the Minsk agreement. Zakharchenko's words on Friday demonstrated that this was to no avail.
The European Union responded by appealing to Moscow to use its influence on the rebels to get them to comply with the ceasefire.
"Those responsible for the recent escalation must now show that they are serious about their commitment to a political settlement," the EU's foreign policy coordinator, Federica Mogherini, said. "We call notably on Russia to fully assume its responsibility."
Russia has repeatedly denied accusations from the West that it is stoking the fires of conflict in eastern Ukraine by supplying arms and even manpower to the rebels. On Friday, President Vladimir Putin blamed Kyiv for the latest fighting.
"Artillery and aviation is used indiscriminately in heavily populated areas," he told a meeting of Russia's Security Council.
Death toll tops 5,000
Also on Friday, the United Nations announced that the death toll from the conflict, which broke out last April, had climbed above 5,000.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville also told a news conference in Geneva that more than 260 people had died in the past nine days alone, making it the most deadly period in the conflict since the Minsk agreement was signed.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Russia a vague further incentive to help bring an end to the fighting, saying that if the Minsk truce was implemented, there could be trade talks between the EU and the newly-established Eurasian Economic Union.
pfd/bk (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)