Ukraine Sees First Direct Combat in Two Months Before EU Meeting

  • Rebel attack threatens to derail truce negotiatiated in Minsk
  • Ukrainian president holds talks with EU foreign-policy chief

Ukraine’s military said its troops engaged pro-Russian insurgents in the first direct combat in two months, just hours before the country’s president was due to meet the European Union’s foreign-policy chief in Kiev.

“It’s difficult to say why the attacks increased,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the military in the Ukrainian capital, said during a video webcast on Monday. “But we are ready for any developments, including a major offensive.”

A group of insurgents attempted to storm a small Ukrainian army base in the Donetsk region town of Mayorsk, wounding one government soldier, Lysenko said. Personnel at the base struck back, killing and wounding several rebels before repelling the attack, the spokesman said, citing intelligence data. Separatists also fired on Ukrainian positions along much of the front line in the country’s east during the past 24 hours, with small arms and grenade launchers used in most attacks to provoke government troops to fire back, according to Lysenko.

The flareup would mark the latest escalation in the year-and-a-half-long conflict after a lull that was still punctuated by intermittent shelling and attacks that the belligerents blamed on each other. It threatens to derail a peace plan negotiated in February in Minsk, Belarus, after mediation from Germany, France and Russia.

President Petro Poroshenko met Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, saying “some, very limited” progress could be seen in the implementation of the Minsk accords. Even as rebels continue their “provocative” attacks, the fragile cease-fire still holds, Poroshenko told reporters after the meeting.

Rebels have been under increasing shelling by government troops since Nov. 1, Eduard Basurin, a military spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said by phone. The Ukrainian army steps up its attacks because it doesn’t want to honor the agreements reached in Minsk and tries to provoke a response, he said.

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