Heavy shelling in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine left 364 miners trapped underground and forced the mine to stop operating. All the miners were safely brought to the surface but the underground chambers are now full of gas. Duration: 00:51
Donetsk coal mine closes after heavy shelling
Foreign ministers plan Ukraine peace summit in heat of battle
by Dmitry ZAKS
KIEV, Jan 12, 2015 (AFP) – Foreign ministers from Moscow and Kiev meet their French and German counterparts in Berlin on Monday to arrange a Ukrainian peace summit that the Europeans fear is premature because of festering fighting.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hopes to stage the leadership meeting in the Kazakh capital Astana on Thursday so that two of his closest allies could push Vladimir Putin into signing a document that finally commits Russia to peace.
A September 5 truce agreed by the two presidents’ envoys was followed by 1,300 more deaths and has ultimately failed to end the pro-Kremlin militias’ separatist claim in the industrial southeast of Ukraine.
But German Chancellor Merkel informed both Putin and Poroshenko over the weekend that she would not fly to Central Asia to put her name on a deal that is valid only on paper while clashes raged after already claiming 4,700 lives.
The rebel stronghold of Donetsk — a once bustling city of nearly one million that now stands half vacant and suffering chronic power and water shortages — has been the target of especially heavy rocket and artillery fire in the past week.
Kiev accuses the rebels of escalating their strikes in order to undermine the chances of Putin agreeing to a settlement that preserves Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia and buries their independence hopes.
A partial Donetsk power outage on Sunday trapped more than 300 miners inside one of Europe’s largest coal pits for several hours with limited oxygen supplies.
Residents fear that stray shells could do similar damage to combustible natural gas lines that snake across former Soviet lands.
Ukraine’s armed forces said the militias attacked federal positions on 63 occasions since Sunday morning — about five times the number recorded on more peaceful days witnessed in the nine-month war.
– Mutual need in peace –
Yet both Putin and Poroshenko have reasons to end fighting that began shortly after the February ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed president and Russia’s subsequent seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Ukraine’s army is a shadow of the once-proud force that made up the communist Red Army. Demoralised troops have been captured by the hundreds and even crossed into Russia for safety from insurgent attacks.
Poroshenko backed the September deal after nearly seeing resurgent gunmen establish a land bridge between Russia and Crimea that would have cut off Ukraine’s access to the Sea of Azov on its southeastern coast.
The campaign has since settled into a stalemate in which little ground changes hands despite the bloodshed.
And Putin — his personal approval soaring but his country’s economy shrinking for the first time since 2009 — would benefit greatly from an easing of financial restrictions Western allies slapped on Russia over its approach to Ukraine.
Fitch on Friday downgraded Russia’s credit rating to the lowest possible investment level due to the plunge in the price for its oil exports and dramatic ruble decline.
The agency’s negative outlook means that Fitch could soon consign Russia’s sovereign debt to the “junk” status reserved for the world’s riskiest investments and which would put it off limits to most Western funds.
The most painful EU and US measures deprive Russia’s most powerful banks and energy producers from borrowing money for more than 90 days on Western markets.
This has left indebted firms dependent on rescues from a Russia government that has seen its own budget revenues shrink.
The central bank on Monday reported spending $76 billion last year in its eventually-abandoned effort to prop up the ruble.
Russia’s international reserves have slipped below $400 million for the first time in five years. Moscow also has nearly $170 billion saved up in two oil wealth funds and few analysts expect the country to run out of cash the way Ukraine has this year.
But some Europeans have expressed alarm over the security risks carried by the nuclear superpower’s economic implosions.
“I think the sanctions must stop now. They must be lifted if there is progress,” French President Francois Hollande said last week.