Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has nominated a new defence minister and appointed a new armed forces chief in a shake up of a military currently driving against Russian separatists despite moves for a new ceasefire.
Poroshenko told deputies on Wednesday night that he wanted Valery Heletey, a 46-year-old colonel-general who heads security at the presidential and parliamentary administration, to replace acting defence minister Mykhailo Koval, his website said. He also appointed lieutenant-general Viktor Muzhenko, 52, a top official in the military drive against the rebels, to replace Mykhailo Kutsyn as head of the general staff.
Poroshenko was expected to seek endorsement for Heletey's nomination at a session of parliament on Thursday. But debate on "decentralisation" proposals for the regions, which is part of his peace plan, ran into trouble when a key coalition partner came out against them.
The military shake-up follows Poroshenko's rejection of a new ceasefire on Monday night and his decision to resume a full offensive against the separatists in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine who have set up "people's republics" and said they want to join Russia.
In overnight violence, one Ukrainian soldier was killed when rebels approached in a car bearing a white flag and then opened fire, a military spokesman, Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, said. The border service also said nine border guards were wounded in a rebel mortar attack on their post in Luhansk region on the border with Russia.
Poroshenko's decision to relaunch operations against the rebels won US support but harsh condemnation from Russia. Moscow denies Poroshenko's charges that it is stoking the conflict by allowing arms and Russian mercenaries to pass across the joint border to reinforce the separatists.
In Berlin on Wednesday the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, after talks with German and French ministers, supported a further meeting of a "contact group" involving separatist leaders and aimed at trying to work out conditions for a more lasting ceasefire.
The group includes a former president of Ukraine, who is informally representing Kiev, Moscow's ambassador to Kiev and a high-ranking official from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The group should meet "no later than July 5th with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed sustainable ceasefire", said a document agreed by all four ministers.
Poroshenko declared a week-long ceasefire on June 20 to give rebels the time to down weapons under an amnesty offered in his peace plan. He extended it by three days on June 27. But on Monday he refused to prolong it on the advice of his security officials who said the ceasefire had allowed rebels to regroup and rearm, and had cost the lives of government troops.
A total of 200 service personnel have been killed since the start of the conflict, including 150 soldiers, according to Andriy Lytsenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national security and defence council. Hundreds of civilians and rebels have also died.
Parliament was also scheduled on Thursday to hear Poroshenko's proposals for constitutional changes that will allow him to press a plan to devolve more powers to the regions. By giving regions a greater say over their own affairs and finances, and by granting language rights to non-Ukrainian speakers, Poroshenko's "decentralisation" plan aims to address grievances of Russian speakers in the east.
But the parliamentary session went into recess quickly after deputies from the Fatherland party, a key coalition partner whose support Poroshenko requires, stayed away from proceedings. The party, which is led by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said later it wanted the debate on the decentralisation plan to be postponed.