Russian buildup seen as fighting rages
NATO: ‘Regrettable step backward’
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaks to lawmakers during a session of the parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, June 19, 2014. The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday approved Ukraine's new foreign minister, prosecutor-general and National Bank Chief(AP Photo/Mykola Lazarenko, pool)
Denis Pushilin, leader of the insurgent Donetsk Peoples Republic attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 19, 2014. Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin admits the pro-Russian fighters are significantly weaker than the Ukrainian army. Pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane Saturday, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard in a bloody escalation of the conflict in the country's restive east. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
A pro-Russian fighter holds a gun during a handover of the bodies of Ukrainian troops killed in the plane shot down near Luhansk, at a check point in the village of Karlivka near Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, June 18, 2014. The two sides managed to arrange a brief truce Wednesday evening in the eastern town of Karlivka to allow pro-Russian forces to hand over the bodies of 49 Ukrainian troops who died when the separatists shot down a transport plane bound for the airport in Luhansk last weekend. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Russia is resuming its military buildup along the Ukrainian border in an apparent attempt to intimidate its neighbor, NATO’s chief said yesterday as Ukrainian government forces unleashed a major offensive against pro-Moscow insurgents.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, voicing strong concern about the Ukrainian military onslaught.
Putin said he expects the Ukrainian president to immediately launch his plan to end the violence, the Kremlin said.
Last month, Putin ordered his military to withdraw from the border in an apparent attempt to ease the crisis, and NATO confirmed that the bulk of an estimated 40,000 Russian troops had pulled back.
But yesterday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia has deployed a few thousand additional troops to the border, calling it “a very regrettable step backward.”
“If they’re deployed to seal the border and stop the flow of weapons and fighters, that would be a positive step. But that’s not what we’re seeing,” Rasmussen said in London.
The Russian Defense Ministry refused to comment.
The allegations came as heavy fighting raged near Krasnyi Liman, just east of the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region that has been the epicenter of violence during the past two months.
Vladislav Seleznev, a spokesman for Ukrainian forces in the east, described the area as a strategic supply corridor for the rebels. He said in a statement on Facebook that four government troops were killed and 20 wounded in the fighting Thursday.
He said up to 200 rebels were killed and hundreds wounded. The claim could not be independently confirmed.
Rebel chief Igor Strelkov said in a statement on YouTube that his men were far outnumbered and outgunned and would probably be forced to retreat.
Strelkov, clad in combat fatigues, bitterly scolded the Kremlin for failing to help the rebellion and issued a desperate plea to send in troops.
“I hope that they have enough conscience left in Moscow to take some measures,” he said.
There was no immediate response from the Kremlin, which has ignored previous pleas for help from the insurgents.
Putin has faced strong pressure from nationalists at home to send troops into Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea in March.
But Putin, eager to avoid a new round of crippling Western sanctions, has instead welcomed a peace plan put forward by new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.