Shakey Cease-Fire Manages To Hold In Ukraine
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Eastern Ukraine both sides say a truce is holding, mostly. Russian backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have exchanged some artillery fire, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says more than two thirds of Russia's forces have pulled back across the border. So the soldiers that Russia always denied were Russian soldiers have now returned to Russia. There's even talk in Europe of holding off on more sanctions against Russia. The situation on the ground is still very unstable and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports this morning from the Ukrainian capital.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: On the surface things seem normal in Kiev, street musicians entertain crowds, people stroll and sit at cafes on a warm September evening, but the country's untenable situation is on everyone's mind. So will the cease-fire hold? Olexiy Haran, a professor of political science at Kiev Mohyla University, says that actually depends on how the West deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
OLEXIY HARAN: If the West is tough, Putin will not be able to move. But whenever he feels is the West is weak, he's going to act.
BEARDSLEY: The conflict centers right now around the port city of Mariupol, which lies halfway between land held by Russian-backed separatist and Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia. On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko made a surprise visit to Mariupol.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).
BEARDSLEY: Poroshenko told the crowd of metalworkers and TV cameras, this city was, is and will always be Ukrainian. And we will never let anyone take it. Haran believes Mariupol is in Putin's sights.
HARAN: His plan was to create a corridor between Russian territory and Crimea by land. So actually, his idea was to seize the town of Mariupol. But Putin realized that, first of all, it won't be easy for him when the military comes. And second, there would be Western sanctions. So he stopped.
BEARDSLEY: If the cease-fire does hold, negotiations are supposed to begin around a 12-point peace plan put forth by Putin and Poroshenko. It is set to provide more autonomy for the Eastern breakaway provinces, while keeping them part of Ukraine.
Although some prisoners have been exchanged between the sides under the plan, not much else has happened. And with mistrust on both sides so deep, even getting Ukrainian television and radio back on the airwaves in the East is fraught with difficulty.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS NETWORK, "UKRAINE TODAY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It is time for the world to hear Ukraine's voice.
BEARDSLEY: That's Ukraine Today, a newly launched television news channel in English that's targeted at international audiences. Head editor, Peter Dickinson, a Brit who spent the better part of two decades here, says the channel will help counter Russian media, which portrays the conflict as ethnic Russians defending themselves against fascist Ukrainians.
PETER DICKINSON: Kiev is the biggest Russian-language city in the world, outside of Russia itself. And yet, the Russians will tell you that they're trying to protect Russian speakers. So that, for me, is very telling. You know, the only reason that that position had any credibility is because no one knew any better.
BEARDSLEY: Alexander Paraschiy is an energy sector analyst for an investment group in Ukraine. He says the protracted conflict is punishing Ukraine's economy, and the upcoming winter could be a hard one. With gas imports from Russia unsure, the Ukrainian government has put in place an energy security plan to decrease consumption. Paraschiy says people will naturally turn to electricity when their central heating isn't enough, which presents another problem.
ALEXANDER PARASCHIY: At the moment, roughly half of coal mines that produce coal for Ukraine are under occupied territory. And roughly 40 percent of electricity in Ukraine is made from coal.
BEARDSLEY: Coal from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which are partially under separatist control. Paraschiy says if this limbo situation goes on, Ukraine will become increasingly unstable. But then again, he says, that's exactly what Putin wants. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.