European leaders resisted calls from Ukraine to send a peacekeeping force to contain fighting in the east of the country on Monday as international monitors reported a surge in fighting in the eastern Donbass region.
Ahead of the talks Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on the EU to “deploy an international peacekeeping mission in our country which will contribute to the complete fulfilment of the Minsk accords”, a reference to the increasingly fragile ceasefire agreement brokered in the Belarussian capital in February.
But after talks that included Poroshenko and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk said such a mission was not possible.
“I am fully aware we are witnessing a lot of violations that cost on a daily basis the lives of Ukrainian soldiers;” Tusk said. “But […] we have to continue our diplomatic efforts.”
“Today it’s impossible to send a military mission,” Tusk said, adding the leaders had agreed to extend a civilian assessment mission to review the humanitarian situation.
The international monitoring mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported heavy fighting had taken place on Sunday in the village of Shyrokyne, which is near the strategically crucial port city of Mariupol. It remains under control of the Kiev goverment, but it's the sight of constant conflict.
“Our observers witnessed the most intense shelling in Shyrokyne since fighting began in the area in mid-February of this year,” said Michael Bociurkiw, spokesperson of the OSCE in Kiev.
“They recorded an intensive 12-hour period in which there was sporadic to continuous exchange of fire involving small arms, machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and automatic grenade launchers. Also worrisome is that our observers noted many tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the area.”
The OSCE says it was not clear who started the fighting but added it was a very tense area where the internationally brokered ceasefire signed in February has repeatedly failed to be respected.
The meeting was intended to review progress towards meeting the conditions of the association agreement signed between Ukraine and the EU in 2014, namely the pace of economic and institutional reforms. EU leaders pressured Ukraine’s government to speed up reforms and fight corruption.
“Some [European] member states [...] are probably not entirely happy with the pace of reforms,” said Valessa Tcherneva, director of the Wider Europe program of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“On the other hand, I think everyone understands that the fact a war is going on in the east of the country means not only taking away a lot of political energy but also taking financial resources,” she added. “The war costs between five and 10 million US dollars per day, which is quite a substantial amount given the economic situation in Ukraine.”
Tcherneva added that in any case, it was looking increasingly certain that the fighting was not going to stop under the current ceasefire deal.
“Raising the conflict seems to be a better solution from an EU perspective right now, even though a couple of months ago we though it should be a situation we should try to avoid,” she said.