Three days after the guns were supposed to go silent in Ukraine, and hours after thousands of Ukrainian soldiers launched a desperate and bloody retreat from the besieged town of Debaltseve, the most senior official of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization got around to calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop providing men, supplies and advanced weaponry to rebels there.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stopped to speak to the press on his way into a meeting of European Union defense ministers in the Latvian capital of Riga Wednesday. “We see a very difficult situation and deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine,” he said. “We have seen that the ceasefire has not been respected.”
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To which the 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers who spent three days under bombardment from rebel and reportedly Russian forces — even after the ceasefire was supposed to take effect — could really only have replied, “You don’t say?”
Stoltenberg went on to admit what almost every respected news organization in the world has been reporting for days.
“We have seen the separatists in eastern Ukraine making advances, especially in and around the Debaltseve and they have used advanced weapons to attack the Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve,” he continued. “Russia provides support for the separatists, providing them with heavy equipment, advanced weapons, forces and training. And the ceasefire is also undermined by the fact that the [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] monitors are not allowed access to be able to do their job to monitor the ceasefire.”
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Stoltenberg urged Russia to “withdraw all its forces from eastern Ukraine, to stop all its support for the separatists and to respect the Minsk agreement and to also use all its influence on the separatists to make them respect the ceasefire.”
The rebels in Ukraine, after the ceasefire agreement was signed last week, unilaterally declared that it did not apply to Debaltseve, and received relatively little pushback from leaders in Europe, who tut-tutted about “ceasefire violations” but took little or no action to let Putin know his country would pay an increased price for continued aggression.
In a Tuesday press conference in Hungary, Putin casually told the Ukrainian people, and the besieged soldiers, to move on. “Life is life; it just goes on,” he said. “No need to dwell on it.”
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