Kiev has accused Russia of sending more tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine and said they were heading towards the rebel-held town of Novoazovsk on the southern coast, an effort which would be expanding their presence on what could be the next battlefront.
Russia did not immediately respond to the accusation which, if confirmed, would help kill off a European-brokered truce that was met by relentless pro-Russian separatist advances since it came into force on Sunday. Moscow has always denied charges in the past that its forces are fighting in Ukraine.
Kiev’s military spokesman Andriy Lysenko has said that many Russian tanks, as well as ammunition has been spotted crossing the border into Ukraine since the ceasefire began not too long ago.
“In recent days, despite the Minsk (ceasefire) agreement, military equipment and ammunition have been sighted crossing from Russia into Ukraine.”
Kiev said rebels had attacked 49 times in the last 24 hours, proof that they were still ignoring the truce, despite having achieved their main objective this week by capturing the railway hub of Debaltseve. The rebels said government forces also fired. Western officials, most notably French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who helped broker the ceasefire just over a week ago, have been openly critical of the transportation of weapons and active fighting over the past week. President Hollande has said that the principals of the deal have to be honoured now more than ever.
“We are more convinced than ever that they must be applied – all the agreements, nothing but the agreements.”
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko accused a top aide to Russia’s Vladimir Putin of being behind the sniper killings of 100 Ukrainian protesters on the streets of Kiev during the uprising a year ago.
“Just a few days ago, the head of state security told me that special forces operatives gave evidence that the Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov led the organisation of groups of foreign snipers on the Maidan.”
In Debaltseve, where Kiev was forced to withdraw thousands of besieged troops this week, the black, blue and red flag of the rebels’ self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic flew over the town hall. Artillery could be heard in the distance. The town held around 27,000 people before the fighting. Most fled during the battle, but thousands remained trapped inside, sheltering in cellars during days of relentless bombardment. Several hundred lined up for food in the centre of town due to the fact that they were unable to either grow their own because of the constant fighting, or because local shops had been destroyed.