KIEV – The leaders of Canada and Japan voiced their support for Ukraine during visits to Kiev on Saturday, as the Ukrainian military reported another serviceman killed in separatist eastern territories following a sharp escalation in violence.
A four-month-old cease-fire has come under fresh strain from the worst fighting between government troops and pro-Russian rebels in months. Both sides accuse the other of violations, and Ukraine has warned of a possible “full-scale invasion” by Russia.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, attended the Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Germany on Sunday, where leaders were to discuss extending European Union sanctions against Russia over its involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
“Japan . . . will do everything possible for a peaceful settlement to the problems facing Ukraine,” Abe said, highlighting that it will be chairing the G-7 next year.
During a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Abe said Japan’s position is centered on its respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Abe told Poroshenko that Japan, which condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine in March last year, “will not tolerate any attempt to alter the status quo by force.” He added that Japan attaches importance to the rule of law, sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Ukrainian crisis.
Poroshenko, for his part, said Ukraine will promote cooperation with Japan in dealing with the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, drawing on its experience dealing with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Sunday’s G-7 event will be the second summit of industrial nations to exclude Russia, frozen out of the Group of Eight after annexing Crimea from Ukraine last year.
The visits came as the Ukrainian military reported one serviceman killed and 10 others wounded in attacks by pro-Russian separatists in the past 24 hours.
It said rebels had fired heavy weapons repeatedly at government troop positions overnight, with areas north-west of separatist-controlled Donetsk among the worst hit. Separatists say Ukrainian forces bombarded Donetsk overnight with artillery.
Kiev and its NATO allies accuse Russia of sending weapons and troops to fight on behalf of rebels who control part of two provinces in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies its troops are participating.
Harper said economic sanctions must remain in place against Russia and promised Canadian military trainers will be sent to Ukraine to instruct Ukrainian troops.
“Our position remains very clear — we do not accept the illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine,” he said, speaking alongside Poroshenko in a subsequent news conference.
A senior monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Friday that the security situation in eastern Ukraine has deteriorated in recent days and accused both sides of putting civilians at risk by positioning military forces alongside civilian areas.
On Wednesday, a 12-hour-long fire-fight involving artillery on both sides raised concerns the already shaky cease-fire could crumble.