Ukraine rebels begin pullback of heavy artillery

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they have started to withdraw their heavy artillery from front-line positions, as required by a peace plan aimed at ending five months of conflict with Kyiv.

The  prime minister of the rebels’ self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, told Russia’s Interfax news agency the pullback was in response to a similar move by Ukrainian forces.  But he said the withdrawal will only take place in areas where Ukrainian units have done the same, not in areas where they remain.

On Monday, Ukrainian officials said they started to pull troops and heavy weapons from the frontlines under the terms of the deal that call for the creation of a 30-kilometer buffer zone.

While the intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions has subsided since the signing of a cease-fire deal on September 5, shelling and gunfire have been almost continuous in and around the city of Donetsk, where heavy shelling was reported Tuesday.

Rebels plan own elections

Zakharchenko also told Interfax that the Donetsk People’s Republic will hold elections for its parliament and leader on November 2.  The parliamentary speaker of the neighboring Luhansk People’s Republic, Alexei Karyakin, told Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency it would hold elections on the same day.

Last week, Ukraine’s parliament passed laws granting temporary self-rule to areas under rebel control and calling for local elections to be held in those areas on December 7.  But Russian news agencies quoted rebel officials as saying they would neither hold the local elections called by Kyiv nor participate in national parliamentary elections set for October 26.

Ukraine will be high on the agenda this week at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be in attendance.  Instead, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent Moscow at the annual meeting.

Kremlin officials say Putin will attend the G20 summit in Australia in November, where the Ukraine crisis is expected to be a main topic of discussion.

Ukrainians skeptical about peace

A majority of Ukrainians are skeptical about chances for the laws on self-rule in rebel-controlled areas bringing peace to the country’s east, according to a recent poll.

Sixty-two percent of those polled by GfK research organization don’t believe the laws will settle the conflict, while 31.6 percent are optimistic.

Asked about the amnesty the law extends to the conflict’s participants, 57.3 percent of those polled said they do not support the initiative, while 35.5 percent viewed it favorably.

The results, according to GfK, are based on telephone interviews with 800 adult residents of Ukraine, conducted September 19-21. The group puts the margin of error at 3.5 percent.