KIEV, March 15 - Ukraine on Wednesday announced a transport blockade of rebel-held areas that is likely to cause serious economic disruption and could threaten a precarious cease-fire in the east of the country, AP reported.
“It will be in place until the occupiers return stolen Ukrainian industry to Ukrainian jurisdiction,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the country’s national security council in Kiev.
The move represents a dramatic U-turn by Poroshenko, who had previously tried to end a transport blockade on the rebel east imposed by nationalist groups. It shows the government’s vulnerability to radical forces, which have increasingly shaped the nation’s policy agenda.
Many economic links have been preserved between separatist-controlled areas that are dominated by heavy industry, particularly coal mining and metallurgy, and government-held Ukraine despite a three-year conflict.
But the new measures appeared to amount to a full-blown trade ban.
All rail and road connections with the rebel-controlled mini-states will be cut from Wednesday, National Security and Defense Council head Oleksandr Turchynov told reporters.
The only exception to the new blockade will be for humanitarian deliveries by Ukrainian organizations, the United Nations and the Red Cross.
Poroshenko had previously criticized blockades on rebel-held areas imposed by nationalist activists, arguing that they hurt ordinary Ukrainians and drive residents of the east to join the rebel ranks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denounced the move, describing it as “contradicting common sense and a sense of human conscience,” Tass reported.
The German government also criticized the Ukrainian government.
“From our point of view, such a decision doesn’t contribute to de-escalation: quite the contrary, it tends to encourage the separatist tendencies in Donbass,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said in Berlin, referring to the area of eastern Ukraine under rebel control.
Martin Sajdik, a special envoy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the so-called contact group for talks on the situation in eastern Ukraine, said Wednesday following its meeting in Minsk that the latest developments “heightened tensions and have a clearly adverse effect for the process of bringing positions closer.” (ap/ez)