Nikishine/Budapest: Russian President Vladimir Putin told Kiev to let its soldiers surrender to pro-Russian rebels, who spurned a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and fought their way on Tuesday into the town of Debaltseve, encircling thousands of government troops.
A peace deal reached at all-night talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk last week had all but unravelled, with both sides failing to begin pulling back heavy guns as required after the rebels refused to halt their advance.
Putin, whom Western countries accuse of directing the rebel assault with Russian soldiers and weapons, said Kiev should allow its soldiers to surrender to the advancing rebels.
“I hope that the responsible figures in the Ukrainian leadership will not hinder soldiers in the Ukrainian army from putting down their weapons,” Putin said.
“If they aren’t capable of taking that decision themselves and giving that order, then (I hope) that they won’t prosecute people who want to save their lives and the lives of others.”
He added that he hoped the rebels would allow the Ukrainians to return to their families, once they had surrendered the town.
The rebels say the ceasefire announced last week does not apply at all to the main battle front at Debaltseve, a railway hub in a pocket between the two main rebel-held areas.
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