Ukraine said today it has suspended offensive operations in its military campaign in east Ukraine to help international experts reach the downed Malaysian airliner's crash site but separatists were continuing to attack its positions.
Kiev said on the Facebook website of what it calls its “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) against pro-Russian rebels in the east that it was heeding calls by U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon to stop fighting near the plane crash site.
“On July 31, troops involved in the active ATO phase are not conducting military operations apart from protecting their own positions from attack,” it said. “But mercenary fighters of the Russian terrorists are not respecting any international agreements and requests.”
The rebels have accused Kiev of blocking access to the Malaysian MH17 flight crash site by fighting in the area.
"Ukraine continued to violate the ceasefire in the MH17 crash area, not allowing OSCE observers and experts from the Netherlands and Australia to enter the area," said Sergei Kavtaradze, an aide to top rebel leader Aleksander Borodai.
“We hope Ukrainians will adhere to the decisions of the U.N., allow observers and experts to reach the crash site and facilitate security of the place,” he said.
Experts from the Netherlands and Australia tried to reach the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine today after several failed attempts this week.
Members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were also part of a team that was trying to navigate a safe route to the area where the plane went down on July 17th, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
“The goal is to reach the spot where MH17 crashed and evaluate safety on the route from Donetsk,” the Dutch team said in a statement.
Although most of the bodies have been recovered from the site, there are still human remains and personal belongings to be secured.
The area has been inaccessible all week due to fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, who have accused rebels of placing land mines to prevent a proper investigation.
Russia last night fought back over new US and EU sanctions imposed over its involvement in Ukraine even as G7 leaders warned of further steps.
Moscow called the new EU and US sanctions "destructive and short-sighted" and said they would lead to higher energy prices in Europe and damage cooperation with the United States on international affairs.
The new EU and US sanctions restrict sales of arms and of equipment for the oil industry, while Russian state banks are barred from raising money in Western capital markets. G7 leaders issued a joint statement yesterday warning Russia that it would face added economic sanctions if Moscow does not change course on its Ukraine policy.
They expressed grave concern about Russian actions that have undermined “Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”
“Russia still has the opportunity to choose the path of de-escalation,” the statement said. “If it does not do so, however, we remain ready to further intensify the costs of its adverse actions.”
In addition, the European Commission published the names of eight Russians, including some of president Vladimir Putin's associates, and three companies that will have their assets frozen as part of the sanctions.
The companies named include Russian National Commercial Bank, which was the first Russian bank to go into Crimea after the region's annexation by Russia this year. The other two firms are anti-aircraft weapons maker Almaz-Antey and airline Dobrolyot, which operates flights between Moscow and Simferopol in the Crimea.