Ukraine Warns of New Rebel Offensive as Shelling Intensifies

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Ukraine said pro-Russian rebels shelled the army more actively than at any time in the past six months and may be planning a fresh offensive amid wrangling over a fraying peace accord in the nation’s east.

“This intensity of shelling corresponds to active military fighting,” said Oleksandr Turchynov, head of Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council. The military logged 153 attacks overnight, representing “a black record” since a truce was sealed in February, he said during a visit to the conflict zone.

Two servicemen were killed and 10 wounded in the past 24 hours as insurgents moved artillery and personnel closer to government troops, Turchynov said Thursday in an e-mailed statement.

Violence has surged this week, endangering peace agreements brokered by Germany and Russia to halt a 16-month war that’s cost more than 6,700 lives. A previous cease-fire, also signed in Minsk, Belarus, lasted four months. The conflict has poisoned relations between Russia and its former Cold War foes. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies claims he’s orchestrating the unrest after Ukraine’s pro-European Union revolution last year.

Deputy rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied any plan for an offensive.

“Ukraine’s statement on our preparation of an offensive is just another lie,” Basurin said by phone from Donetsk. “The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe doesn’t record our re-deployment of heavy weapons.”

OSCE monitors spotted numerous locations on both sides of front line where heavy weapons were used, Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the organization’s mission to Ukraine, told reporters Thursday in Kiev.

“It’s hard to see any big strategic objective yet,” said Andrew Wilson, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on foreign relations. Russian “proxies haven’t got the territory they want. Ukraine, of course, doesn’t have enough military power to contain this.”

The escalation comes as talks in California between Ukraine and its creditors to restructure $19 billion of foreign debt enter a second day. Ukrainian Eurobonds due 2017 climbed to 57.16 cents on the dollar in Kiev, the highest level in more than a week, on optimism a compromise will be reached.

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