ILNA: 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.
Reuters journalists near the snowbound frontline said artillery rounds were rocking Debaltseve every five seconds and black smoke was rising skywards as Grad rockets pounded 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.
" SURRENDER TALKS "
" Eighty percent of Debaltseve is already ours, " said Eduard Basurin, a rebel leader. " A clean - up of the town is under way. "
He later said negotiations were under way for ۵,۰۰۰ Ukrainian troops to surrender. " Hundreds " had been captured and would eventually be released to their families. Ukraine denied that the number of captives was that high.
Despite Putin’s public call for a surrender, Russia sponsored a resolution adopted by the U. N. Security Council that called on all sides to implement the truce agreement, expressing " grave concern " at the violence.
Putin was visiting Hungary on Tuesday, his first bilateral trip to an EU country since last July, when Moscow was left isolated after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel - held territory with what Western countries say was a Russian - supplied missile.
Hopes that the deal reached last Thursday would end a conflict that has killed more than ۵,۰۰۰ people were always low after a rebel advance in January ended an earlier truce.
But Western countries appeared surprised that the rebels had refused even to pay lip service to the ceasefire at Debaltseve.
Russia has already annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and Western countries believe Putin’s goal is to establish a " frozen conflict " in eastern Ukraine, gaining permanent leverage over a country of ۴۵ million people seeking integration with Europe.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the rebel assault on the town a cynical attack on the Minsk agreement.