WASHINGTON — On a day that the Ukrainian government announced a unilateral cease-fire in its battle with separatists in the country’s east, the Obama administration raised the stakes with Russia, accusing the Kremlin of continuing to covertly arm the rebels.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian military, Vladislav Seleznyov, said the cease-fire would begin at 10 p.m. local time. Ukraine’s new president, Petro O. Poroshenko, has stressed that the plan hinges on the sealing of the porous border with Russia, to prevent the flow of fighters and arms.
There was no immediate reaction from separatist leaders, but the Kremlin issued an angry statement complaining about artillery fire that struck a Russian border post, with demands for an investigation and an apology.
“The statement by the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, on the temporary cessation of hostilities was accidentally or deliberately made against the backdrop of shelling of Russian territory,” the Kremlin said in its statement, adding that a building at the border post had been destroyed and a customs agent seriously injured. “The Russian side is waiting for an explanation and an apology,” the Kremlin said, adding, about the cease-fire, “The initial analysis, unfortunately, shows that this is not an invitation to peace and negotiations but an ultimatum for the militias of southeast Ukraine to surrender.”
In addition, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, spoke by phone with the new Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, and Lavrov complained about demands that Russian tighten control of its border with Ukraine.
Lavrov, in the call, again insisted that Russia did not control — or speak for — the separatist rebels. Russia’s vehement reaction was somewhat surprising, given that the halt in military operations was part of a broader peace plan that Poroshenko has been developing in recent weeks in consultation with Russia and Western leaders.
In Washington today, U.S. officials added another element to an increasingly complex situation, accusing Russia of working to undermine the prospects for peace even as President Vladimir Putin consulted with Poroshenko virtually daily on his peace proposal. President Barack Obama warned Putin this month that the West would impose “additional costs” on Russia if its provocations were to continue.
“We have information that Russia has redeployed significant military forces to its border with Ukraine,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters today. “Russian special forces are also maintaining points along the Ukrainian border to provide support to separatist fighters.”