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U.S. Urges Russia to End Latest Upsurge in East Ukraine Attacks

  • Ukraine reported 8 civilians wounded in shelling Tuesday
  • Unrest follows Russian pull-out from military-monitoring body

The U.S. urged Russia to halt a renewed bout of fighting in the four-year conflict in eastern Ukraine following the Kremlin’s decision to withdraw from a military-monitoring mission.

Ukraine, which has been battling Russian-backed insurgents near the two nations’ border since 2014, said eight civilians were wounded Tuesday by heavy artillery and mortar fire. Two soldiers were killed, the military press service in Kiev said Wednesday. Rebel forces accused Ukraine of firing almost 1,000 shells into its territory, the Tass news service reported.

The simmering conflict, which broke out after Ukraine ousted its Kremlin-backed leader and has cost more than 10,000 lives, is still nowhere near a permanent resolution after a peace accord signed in 2015 wasn’t implemented on time. Russia has so far rejected Ukrainian calls for a United Nations peacekeeping force on the border between the two countries. This week’s violence came after Russia pulled its officers out of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination, a military body designed to prevent escalations.

“The U.S. calls on Russia to put an end to the attacks in eastern Ukraine, withdraw its forces and heavy weapons from the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and agree to a robust UN peacekeeping mission,” the State Department said late Tuesday on Twitter.

‘Armed Aggression’

The Kremlin blamed the government in Kiev for its decision to withdraw from the JCCC, saying a Ukrainian requirement that Russian officers provide biometric information including fingerprints to cross the border starting in 2018 made it impossible for them to remain. Russia also accused its neighbor of blocking the observers’ work and denying access to the line of contact between the two warring factions.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Russia’s decision “considerably undermines” peace efforts, calling it an attempt to “exonerate itself from any responsibility, as a party to the conflict, for the consequences of the armed aggression against our state.”

Officials from all sides of the conflict are set to meet Wednesday afternoon in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. On the agenda is a truce for the Christmas period. All previous cease-fires have unraveled.

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