KIEV, March 3 The main pro-Russian separatist
leader in Ukraine said on Friday he would cut economic ties
between rebel territory and the rest of the country, following
through on an ultimatum to end trade if the government did not
halt a rail blockade.
The blockade by an autonomous group of Ukrainian lawmakers
and military veterans has stopped rail shipments from
separatist-controlled areas, causing economic hardship on both
sides of the eastern front line as it has hit coal and steel
producers, the regions' main employers.
The government in Kiev opposes the blockade, which the group
said on Friday it planned to expand.
"As of now we break all ties with Ukraine," Alexander
Zakharchenko, the head of the self-styled Donetsk People's
Republic was quoted as saying by separatist website DAN.
"We don't need Ukraine in order to survive and live
normally. It is they who need us."
The separatist-run territory occupies only a small part of
Ukraine's coal-rich Donbass basin, but it is the main source of
the anthracite needed to fuel thermal power plants across
The trade squeeze has highlighted the complicated economic
relationship between the two sides and represents a new phase in
a periodically violent stand-off that has killed more than
10,000 people in the last three years.
Ukrainian authorities have warned that the country could be
hit by rolling blackouts and lost foreign export income of up to
$2 billion if rail shipments from separatist territory do not
They have sought to negotiate with the pro-Ukrainian
activists, holding off from forcibly breaking up the encampments
on rail lines in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The activists argue that trade enriches the oligarchs and
fuels the conflict that broke out in April 2014, after a
pro-European uprising in Kiev ousted a Moscow-backed president.
On Friday they announced plans to expand the blockade to
include some road traffic from separatist-held territory and
Russia, which they see as the main adversary for its role in
supporting rebels with troops and weapons.
"Russia has occupied our territory and our goal is to close
all crossing points," the blockade's main organiser, Anatoliy
Vynohrodsky, said in briefing in Kiev.
Vynohrodsky did not say when they planned to expand the
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Alessandra Prentice;
editing by John Stonestreet)