Fear in Ukraine as Russian tanks roll in

A couple stand outside their shell'damaged home in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. Picture: AP
A couple stand outside their shell'damaged home in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine. Picture: AP
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The United States has accused Moscow of “fuelling” the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as fears of a return to all-out war grow amid reports of Russian tanks and heavy artillery rolling across the border.

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, attacked Russia over its conduct in Ukraine, saying it was deliberately undermining a ceasefire agreement signed in September in Minsk.

“Where Russia has made commitments, it has failed to meet them,” she told a UN Security Council session. “Russia has negotiated a peace plan, and then systematically undermined it at every step. It talks of peace but keeps fuelling the war.”

A US state department official added to the verbal assault saying they had seen “ongoing, continuous, blatant violations of the Minsk protocol by Russia and its proxies”.

The US claims came as the fragile ceasefire appeared to be on the verge of collapse, amid claims Russian tanks and heavy artillery were now in position and ready to support separatist fighters.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers in rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine reported seeing a number of military convoys heading for unknown destinations.

General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s commander in Europe, said “columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops” had entered Ukraine.

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Nato also released photographs purportedly showing unmarked Russian tanks and lorries moving into Ukraine, while the Kiev government claimed some 8,000 Russian troops were now on its soil.

The mounting evidence of Russian military involvement in Ukraine increased fears of a return to an all-out war that will shred the last vestiges of the much-abused ceasefire that has kept a partial peace since it was signed on 5 September.

“Since the Minsk agreement, we have more than 2,400 breaches of the ceasefire by militant groups. More than 100 Ukrainian soldiers and dozens of civilians have been killed,” Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s representative to the OSCE, said.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said yesterday that renewed fighting had left four soldiers dead and 18 wounded in the previous 24 hours, but stressed its forces would respect the ceasefire although they would retaliate if attacked. Kiev warned that the possibility of a Russian invasion was now “high” and it could “happen at any moment”.

The latest moves added to the mix of accusations and denial that has brought East-West relations to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War in 1989. Responding to American accusation of involvement, Alexander Pankin, Moscow’s ambassador to the UN, said they “were a foray into propaganda”.

Russia has issued frequent denials of any involvement in Ukraine, and claimed any Russian soldiers fighting with the rebels were there as volunteers. It has also accused the West of using the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, yesterday called for the sanctions to be lifted in order to calm relations with the West.

He said it was necessary to return to “normal, calm, productive talks”.

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