Putin: West already supplies arms to Kiev, but Moscow optimistic about Minsk deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)
Vladimir Putin said that Kiev is being armed by Western allies, according to Moscow's information, but insisted he was “optimistic” about implementing the Minsk agreement, noting that the intensity of fighting has declined.

“According to our data, weapons are already being supplied [to Kiev],” the Russian leader said at a press conference following his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “This is not surprising. I am convinced that whoever is supplying the weapons, the number of victims may grow, but the outcome will not change. The vast majority of soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army have no motivation to participate in an internecine conflict away from home, while the Donbass militia have every reason to defend their families.”

READ MORE: Contested Debaltsevo area remains a stumbling block in E.Ukraine

Putin urged the Ukrainian government “not to prevent the soldiers in the Debaltsevo cauldron from surrendering, or at least not punish those who simply want to save their lives.”

Up to 5,000 Ukrainian troops are thought to be surrounded in this key area deep inside rebel territory.

“Our mission is to save the lives of those caught in the cauldron, and to make sure that the situation does not inflame relations between Kiev and the rebels further,” Putin said.

Nonetheless, Putin repeatedly emphasized that the situation was “more or less quiet” elsewhere on the front, and said that he was “more of an optimist than a pessimist” about the implementation of the Minsk agreement.

Putin believes that last week’s negotiations between Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia laid out a long-term framework for the resolution of the conflict.

“It’s extremely important that the authorities in Kiev have agreed to carry out a deep constitutional reform, to satisfy a desire for self-rule in certain regions – whether that reform is called decentralization, autonomization or federalization. This is the deeper meaning of the Minsk accords.”

READ MORE: The Minsk ceasefire deal, point by point

The new Minsk agreement endorsed last week by the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine provides for a ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons as the first steps towards a political settlement of the Ukrainian civil war.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a Russia-drafted resolution to support the Minsk agreements. The resolution calls for a “total ceasefire” and a “political solution” that respects the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

READ MORE: Russian draft resolution on Ukraine passed by UN Security Council

But with the Debaltsevo cauldron stumbling block firmly in place of the ceasefire, both Kiev and its opponents appear to be reluctant to start the planned withdrawal. Neither side commented on how exactly they plan to make clashes stop around Debaltsevo.

The republican forces denied accusations of blocking the OSCE mission from visiting Debaltsevo, explaining that with “shells exploding and bullets flying,” the area is simply too dangerous right now, and the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic cannot guarantee the mission’s safety.

Both Kiev and the militia have serious motives to cling to the contested Debaltsevo. For Kiev it would be a major military asset with proximity to Donetsk, while the Ukrainian media depict Debaltsevo as a place of a heroic last stand. The rebels suspect Kiev of intending to break the ceasefire eventually and don’t want to leave a land within rocket artillery range from Donetsk in their opponent’s hands.

Besides the Debaltsevo area, the sides “basically have no stumbling blocks,” DPR spokesman Denis Pushilin said, adding the militia are ready to begin the withdrawal of heavy arms “by sectors” on condition that it will be in sync with Ukrainian forces. “This position was communicated to the Ukrainian side,” he added.

As the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine continue, the death toll from the civil war rises accordingly. The latest UN count put the number of fatalities at least 5,665 since April, when Kiev sent regular forces and volunteer battalions to the southeastern Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, after rebels there refused to recognize the country’s coup-imposed authorities.