December 22, 2014
Ukraine accuses Russian forces of opening new front in separatist war
The Ukrainian military said today a group of Russian forces, in the guise of separatist rebels, had crossed into south-east Ukraine with ten tanks and two armored infantry vehicles, aiming to open a new front in the separatist war.
Earlier, a separate military statement said border guards had halted the armored column outside Novoazovsk, Ukraine's most south-easterly point on the Azov Sea, and local residents, reached by phone, spoke of seeing tanks and other armored vehicles moving near the town.
"This morning there was an attempt by the Russian military in the guise of Donbas fighters to open a new area of military confrontation in the southern Donetsk region," spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.
Donbas is the local name given to the industrialized east that has been the scene of a five-month conflict.
If the rebels seized control of the southern regions, they could support the separatist stronghold city of Donetsk from the south with easier access to the Russian border.
Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists has been hitherto concentrated around the two big rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine has accused Moscow of carrying out regular cross-border shelling of government positions to shore up the rebels who have been increasingly hemmed in by Kiev's forces.
It has also charged Russia with carrying out cross-border incursions involving Russian military to carry out operations in support of the rebels. Moscow denies these charges.
The fresh charges of a blatant Russian military incursion into Ukraine is certain to sour further the atmosphere between the two powers ahead of talks on Tuesday between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The talks in the Belarussian capital of Minsk, which will also involve top European Union officials, will produce the first encounter since June between the two leaders.
But with Russia blaming the crisis on Ukraine's military offensive and Ukraine refusing to show restraint until Russia halts its support for the rebels the chances of any breakthrough appear slim.