(Updates with Ukrainian Customs Service under Branson Appeal subheadline. For more on Ukraine’s crisis, see EXT2.)
Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The death toll mounted in the conflict between Ukraine’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east as the military said it continues to push back the rebels.
Thirty-four civilians were killed and 29 hurt in and around Donetsk, one of the main separatist strongholds, over 24 hours, the regional administration said yesterday. Nine servicemen died and 22 were wounded in that period, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev. More than 2,000 people have died in the conflict. Government troops are pushing on with their offensive, the Defense Ministry said today on Facebook.
“It’s a question of the next month for the rebels to either be defeated or for Russia to send in far larger forces to stop their defeat,” Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., said by phone. “Ukraine’s government is very clear: they want to end this by defeating the rebels.”
Ukraine has been fractured by the fighting that’s erupted since Russia annexed Crimea in March. The conflict, which Ukraine and its allies say is being fueled by President Vladimir Putin’s support for the insurgents, has led to sanctions that have hurt trade and threatened to send Russia’s $2 trillion economy into a recession. Russia denies it’s involved.
Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, lost 0.2 percent to 13.32 per dollar today, extending its August drop to 7.9 percent, the most among currencies tracked by Bloomberg. Russia’s Micex stock index rose 0.6 percent in Moscow, gaining for a 10th day.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated calls Aug. 18 for an unconditional cease-fire. Ukraine’s government says it will declare a truce only if the pro-Russian rebels lay down their arms and Russia stops supplying them with weapons. The army controls a “significant” part of Luhansk, the other rebel redoubt, according to Lysenko.
Meanwhile, the first trucks from a Russian convoy intended to supply humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas in east Ukraine moved for scanning on the Russian side of the border yesterday as the International Committee of the Red Cross awaited security guarantees so it can accompany the mission.
Fourteen ICRC members arrived in the southern Russian region of Rostov from Geneva, so the organization now has about 40 members at the site near the border where the convoy is parked, spokeswoman Victoria Zotikova said by phone.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said all the preparations for the mission had been completed and urged that it start as soon as possible. Ukraine’s Customs Service said processing of the aid shipment hasn’t yet begun, the Interfax news service said today.
Billionaire Richard Branson said he’s seeking an audience with Putin as business leaders call for a peaceful end to the conflict. Branson was joined by 15 businesspeople in urging governments to help resolve Ukraine’s crisis and avoid “the Cold War misery of the past,” according to a post on the Virgin Group owner’s blog.
“We will ask for a meeting with President Putin and sit down with him and express our views,” Branson said yesterday in a phone interview from Switzerland.
--With assistance from Ilya Arkhipov and Anton Doroshev in Moscow, Leon Mangasarian in Berlin and Jake Rudnitsky in Rostov region, Russia.