16 Aug 2014

Ukraine forces clash with rebels near Russian border

Skirmishes resume in Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russians as Moscow dismisses as “fantasy” the claims that part of one of its military convoys was destroyed.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists have fought skirmishes near the Russian border after Moscow maintained denials that Kiev’s forces had destroyed part of one of its military convoys.

Moscow said it was a “fantasy” that its armoured vehicles entered Ukraine, and the White House said it was not able to confirm that Russian vehicles had been attacked on Ukrainian trerritory.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has returned to its familiar pattern of recent weeks as Kiev said military equipment was crossing the border from Russia, and pro-Russian rebels said they had attacked Ukrainian troops.

Reuters reported that the sound of explosions was audible in the city centre of Donetsk is eastern Ukraine.

The UN said this week that an estimated 2,086 people had died in the Ukraine conflict, with nearly 5,000 wounded.

A pro-Russian internet news service said on Saturday that separatist fighters had killed 30 members of a Ukrainian government battalion in fighting in Luhansk province, a rebel-held area of eastern Ukraine adjacent to the Russian border.

But a Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman denied the rebels’ claims, saying three Ukrainian servicemen had been killed over the previous 24 hours, and denied Kiev’s forces were firing artillery on Donetsk.

Shifting momentum

Ukrainian security forces said they had spotted Russian drones and a helicopter crossing illegally into Ukraine’s airspace, Lysenko told reporters.

He gave no further details on the incident on Friday in which Kiev said it attacked armoured vehicles that arrived from Russia, and Ukraine has not made clear if the vehicles were manned by Russian soldiers or separatist irregulars.

Ukrainian forces appear to have the momentum in the ground conflict, having pushed the separatists out of large swathes territory and almost encircling them in Donetsk and Luhansk. Kiev says it now controls the road linking the two cities.

Russia says the Ukrainian offensive is causing a humanitarian catastrophe for the civilian population in the two cities, and accuses Kiev’s forces of indiscriminately using heavy weapons in residential areas, an allegation Ukraine denies.

In the past seven days, three of the most senior rebel leaders have been removed from their posts, indicating mounting disagreement over how to turn the tide of the fighting back in their favour.