Ukrainian President Poroshenko has appointed a new defense minister and the chief of the military's general staff. The shake-up is aimed at boosting a military offensive against pro-Moscow separatists.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (pictured right) won parliament's approval on Thursday to change the leadership of his country's armed forces. The Ukrainian leader appointed Col. Gen. Valery Heletey (pictured left) as defense minister who will replace Mikhailo Koval. Lt. Gen. Viktor Muzhenko was named chief of the military's general staff.
Poroshenko, who took office last month, denounced the "complete collapse" of the government's ability to supply the armed forces in their bid to end the rebellion in the country's eastern parts.
He also promised to "purge the army of thieves and grafters." Accusations of corruption have been rife as Kyiv continues with its military offensive against the separatists.
The European Union, United States and Ukraine believe Russia to be providing financial and logistical support to the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 440 lives and displaced thousands since it began roughly 12 weeks ago.
Conditions for ceasefire
In a conference call on Thursday, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to help organize a Contact Group meeting before July 5 in order to define the conditions for a ceasefire between pro-Moscow rebels and Kiev.
"To this end, they asked President Putin to intervene with the separatists in order to bring them into negotiations and to find an accord with the Ukrainian authorities," a statement from the French presidency said.
The Kremlin responded by saying that Putin expressed deep concern over the growing number of civilian deaths and "a sharp increase in the number of refugees from southeastern Ukraine in Russia."
Rebels said they were prepared to take part in indirect talks with Kyiv only if Moscow and international observers were involved.
"If Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe make a proposal to us, then we are willing to participate in consultations," Andriy Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told the news agency AFP.
Meanwhile, fighting between government troops and rebels rumbled on in eastern Ukraine despite a fresh push for a ceasefire from international envoys.
Nine Ukrainian guards were injured Thursday when rebels shelled the strategically important Dolzhansky border between Ukraine and Russia.
Ukraine's defense ministry said in a statement that the government forces destroyed five vehicles carrying "terrorists." The rebels had launched 16 attacks on government checkpoints during the past 24 hours, it added.
After declaring a week-long truce and then extending that agreement through Monday evening, the Ukrainian president rejected the idea of waiting any longer on the separatists to begin peace efforts.
shs/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)