KIEV, Ukraine — Fighting flared near an airport in eastern Ukraine on Saturday in breach of a fragile eight-day cease-fire as the Ukrainian prime minister accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of planning to destroy his country.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the prime minister, said only membership in NATO would enable Ukraine to defend itself from external aggression.
On Saturday afternoon, a Reuters reporter heard heavy artillery fire in northern districts of
Donetsk, the largest city of the region with a pre-war population of about 1 million. He saw plumes of black smoke above the airport, which is in government hands. The city is controlled by the rebels.
A cease-fire negotiated by envoys from Ukraine, Russia, the separatists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe watchdog has been in place in eastern Ukraine since Sept. 5 and is broadly holding despite regular but sporadic violations, especially in key flash points such as Donetsk.
The violence in eastern Ukraine followed the takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in March by Russia. Before the cease-fire, officials in Kiev accused Russia of sending troops and tanks to support pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and elsewhere. Putin says Russia has the right to defend its ethnic kin beyond its borders, though Moscow denies arming the rebels and helped broker the cease-fire with Kiev.
Though the shooting in the conflict that claimed more than 3,000 lives has quieted, the exchange of harsh words continues.
“We are still in a stage of war, and the key aggressor is the Russian Federation. . . . Putin wants another frozen conflict” in Eastern Ukraine, Yatsenyuk said at a conference in Kiev attended by Ukrainian and European lawmakers and business leaders on Saturday. Yatsenyuk said Putin would not be content only with Crimea and Ukraine’s mainly Russian-
speaking eastern region: “His goal is to take all of Ukraine. . . . Russia is a threat to the global order and to the security of the whole of Europe.”
Asked about future NATO membership, a red line for Russia, Yatsenyuk said he realized the alliance was not ready to admit Kiev, but added: “NATO in these particular circumstances is the only vehicle to protect Ukraine.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told a daily briefing that one soldier and 12 rebels had been killed in the past 24 hours, without specifying where they had died. That would bring the death toll among Ukrainian forces since the start of the cease-fire eight days ago to six. The rebels have not said how many of their men have died in the same period. Government forces still hold the Donetsk airport, while the city is in separatist hands.
Also Saturday, about 100 Russian trucks arrived in the war-
ravaged eastern city of Luhansk, part of a convoy sent to deliver 1,800 metric tons of humanitarian aid to residents. It is the second such Russian aid convoy, and it passed the border without any major difficulty. The first convoy in August was denounced by Ukraine and its Western allies for crossing the border without Kiev’s permission.