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What Cease-Fire? Ukrainian Troops Retreat As Rebels Press Fight

Russia-backed rebels pose by a road sign at the entrance in Debaltseve, Ukraine, on Friday after their post-cease-fire seizure of the strategic town.

Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists continued to shell government positions in the country's contested east despite a truce agreement that went into effect nearly a week ago.

Meanwhile, a British parliamentary report published today accuses Europe's leaders and diplomats of a "catastrophic misreading" of the mood in the Kremlin ahead of the crisis that has plunged Ukraine into turmoil and threatened to re-draw the post-Cold War map in the region.

According to Reuters: "The Ukrainian military said pro-Russian separatists had attacked positions held by government troops 49 times in the past 24 hours, using rockets, artillery and armored vehicles, 'The number of attacks show the terrorists do not want to completely silence their guns,' Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoly Stelmach said."

NPR's Corey Flintoff sums up the situation on the ground: "There's really not much incentive for the Russians and the separatists to stop fighting. They captured an important town yesterday, four days after the cease-fire was supposed to have taken effect. The cease-fire agreement is vague about where these two sides should stop and there's no penalty for those who want to keep advancing."

The town in question is Debaltseve. Ukrainian government troops beat a demoralizing withdrawal on Thursday, The New York Times writes. Kiev's forces have been left "griping about incompetent leadership and recounting desperate conditions and gruesome killing as they beat a haphazard retreat ..."

Fighting also raged around the port city of Mariupol. On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on the United Nations to provide peacekeeping forces to monitor the cease-fire, the second in six months.

The Times adds:

"None of the provisions of the peace accord, forged during a marathon overnight negotiating session last week in Minsk, Belarus, have been accomplished according to the agreement's terms and timeline.

"There has been no halt in fighting. A Tuesday deadline for beginning the withdrawal of heavy weaponry came and went, with shells and rockets still falling. And there has been no apparent movement toward a release of prisoners."

Meanwhile, the BBC says the report on Ukraine by a committee of Britain's House of Lords says the European Union underestimated "the depth of Russian hostility to [the EU's] plans" for closer ties to Ukraine.

"The (British) government has not been as active or as visible on this issue as it could have been," the committee also said.

The report concludes that "Russia is increasingly defining itself as separate from, and as a rival to, the EU. Its Eurasian identity has come to the fore and Russia perceives the EU as a geopolitical and ideological competitor. The model of European 'tutelage' of Russia is no longer possible."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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