Ukraine Says Russia Reinforcing Rebels as Tensions Mount

Ukraine accused Russia of stepping up efforts to reinforce rebels in the east with weapons and supplies days after the government in Kiev said as many as 200 separatist fighters were killed.

Insurgents fired on Ukrainian positions 33 times yesterday, killing one civilian and two policemen, the Defense Ministry said in a post on Facebook. Heavy shelling damaged or destroyed seven buildings in the pro-Russian stronghold of Donetsk overnight, the city council said on its website.

“Russia continues to send additional reinforcements, weapons, ammunition to the rebels,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev. There’s a “high probability” Russia is preparing provocations such as terrorist attacks or shelling that it can blame on Ukraine as a pretext to send in “so-called peacekeepers.”

The violence further undermines a Sept. 5 truce that had reduced civilian casualties. Ukraine said Nov. 7 that its forces killed as many as 200 insurgents in a battle for Donetsk Airport, prompting Russia to send new tanks and military vehicles across the border into rebel areas.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in a statement Nov. 8 that convoys of unmarked trucks and tanks were seen in the city of Donetsk and nearby Makeevka.

Military Column

Those vehicles belong to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Russian state news service RIA Novosti reported, citing Eduard Basurin, a deputy commander for the group. The column was moving for “tactical reasons,” he was cited as saying.

More than 40 trucks were seen on the eastern outskirts of Makeevka by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, some towing howitzers and carrying personnel in dark green uniforms without insignias, according to the statement. The mission also observed a convoy of nine unmarked T-72 and T-64 Russian tanks outside the city of Donetsk.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking Nov. 8 in Beijing at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, declined to comment on whether Russia had sent troops and tanks into Ukraine.

“Even Jen Psaki said that the State Department doesn’t have the information about this,” Lavrov said, referring to the State Department spokeswoman. “If Psaki doesn’t have it, I don’t.”

‘Very Worrying’

All sides to the conflict should avoid “any re-escalation of hostilities,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement yesterday. Russia should “fully assume” responsibility for keeping weapons and fighters from crossing its border into Ukraine.

“The most recent reports by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine about convoys in separatist held areas with substantial amounts of heavy weapons, tanks and troops without insignia moving westwards represent a very worrying development,” Mogherini said.

The conflict is moving toward the same kind of open warfare that broke out after the February ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine a month later.

At least 4,035 people have been killed and 9,336 wounded in eastern Ukraine in the fighting, according to the United Nations.

Andrei Purgin, deputy premier of the Donetsk People’s Republic, is scheduled to participate in a committee hearing today in Russia’s Federation Council, the upper chamber of parliament, Interfax reported.

Disputed Elections

Animosity between the government in Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk rose last week after the separatists held Nov. 2 elections condemned by the U.S. and European Union. Ukraine has blamed Russia for inciting the conflict by delivering cash, weapons and fighters to the region. Putin says his country isn’t militarily involved.

In August, according to NATO and Ukraine, Russian forces helped rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions wage a counteroffensive to break out after they were encircled by Ukraine’s army.

Both sides have accused each other of breaking the truce signed in Minsk, Belarus. Ukraine has said its forces have had more than 100 killed and about 600 wounded since the cease-fire came into force.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries have also said Russia is probing their borders. NATO jets have intercepted Russian aircraft 100 times this year, three times last year’s total, the alliance said last month.

“The separatists and their Russian supporters are renewing the conflict after pausing for elections,” Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in Berlin, said by phone. “The war’s intensity is flaring up because Putin finds it hard to stop the aggression given economic deprivations and nationalist expectations at home.”

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