Ukraine reports 3 killed in ‘heaviest fighting for a year’
Ukraine on Thursday said that pro-Russian rebels had killed three of its soldiers in the worst violence seen in the separatist east for a year. Military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said insurgent attacks had doubled from the previous day as tensions between Kiev and Moscow have soared over Kremlin charges that Ukraine plotted to make armed incursions into Russian-annexed Crimea this month. “The rebels launched more than 500 mortar and over 300 artillery shells at our positions,” Motuzyanyk told reporters in Kiev. “The last time we witnessed a similar intensity of fire using heavy armaments was a year ago.”
Ukraine and its Western allies say that Moscow is simply trying to escalate a 28-month separatist conflict in the country’s east that has claimed more than 9,500 lives and began just weeks after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.
Motuzyanyk said three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six wounded in the clashes across the 30-kilometre-wide buffer zone separating the two sides’ forces. French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday against any “escalation” of the conflict after telephone talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. EU president Donald Tusk on Wednesday said he and the Ukrainian leader both believed Russia’s account of recent events in the battle-scarred east and Crimea was “unreliable”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Moscow remained committed to a stalled European-brokered peace plan that was signed in the Belarussian capital Minsk in 2015.
But he also warned that Russia would take “comprehensive measures to make sure any attempts to make incursions into our territory are nipped in the bud”. Kiev and the West accuse Russia of supporting the rebels and deploying troops across the border —both claims Moscow denies.
Poroshenko attended a summit of NATO leaders in Warsaw last month in which the Alliance agreed to bolster its eastern flank in order to calm fears of Russia in both Ukraine and among other former Soviet states.