On Saturday, Ukraine peace talks held in Minsk collapsed as officials representing the Ukrainian government, Russia, and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic once again failed to reach an agreement halting the violence wracking Eastern Ukraine. The most recent sessions were haunted by acrimonious rhetoric and accusations of culpability in attacks which violated terms of previous ceasefire efforts:

Up until Saturday, the sides held only one inconclusive meeting since agreeing a ceasefire last September as part of a 12-point blueprint for peace. Much-violated from the start, that truce collapsed completely with a new rebel advance last week.

Both sides have accused each other of deadly artillery and mortar strikes on civilian targets in the past two weeks, including on a cultural centre in the main regional city of Donetsk on Friday which killed at least five people waiting for humanitarian hand-outs. (Al Jazeera, January 31)

The conflict, which has a death toll exceeding 5,100 since hostilities began in earnest last April, now moves into a phase of more uncertainty amidst an alleged attack by Russian-supported rebels earlier on Saturday claimed the lives of at least 12 civilians in the railroad town of Debaltseve. Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak stated that at least 15 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and an additional 30 wounded in fighting during the previous 24 hours, an intensification of a conflict that now has no real end in sight with the collapse of the Minsk talks.  Poltorak further stated that at least 20 civilians had been killed though clashes throughout the previous day left an inaccurate picture of the battlefield with updates coming to the government in Kiev regularly. Bloomberg Business reported a dramatic upward trend in casualties on both sides, with each side claiming high numbers of enemy killed:

The Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, in a statement on Facebook, said 129 rebels have died and 331 have been wounded in fighting since Jan. 30.

The separatist-run DAN news service said that Ukraine’s military lost 97 soldiers on Saturday alone and that 1,439 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the last 15 days. The news service cited the self-declared Donetsk Republic’s defense ministry. (Kateryna Choursina and Aliaksandr Kudrytski, Bloomberg Business, January 31)

New EU Sanctions

Prior to the cessation of negotiations in Minsk, foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) member states voted to levy new sanctions on Russia in the wake of escalating fighting in Donbass. The new center of the largesse of the fighting between the Kiev government and the Russian-backed rebels continues to be the coastal city of Mariupol (located approximately 315 kilometers east/northeast of Crimea) and the strategic railroad  village of Debaltseve (approximately 185 kilometers north/northeast of Mariupol), both located in Donetsk Oblast. Intense fighting over the past several weeks in Mariupol has overshadowed the negotiations and, in context of the EU foreign ministers’ vote Friday represents an entrenched battle that is representative of the overall conflict itself since last spring: