Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Russian forces try to capture Ukrainian town

  • Ukrainian artillery gun-sight, poised to fire on Russian positions (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

International monitors say pro-Russian forces launched a major attack in east Ukraine on the eve of the G7 summit in Germany.

The monitors, from the Vienna-based OSCE, said fighting erupted near the town of Marinka in the small hours of Wednesday morning (3 June).

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They say it was preceded by “movement of a large amount of heavy weapons in ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’-controlled [Russia-occupied] areas generally in a westerly direction towards the contact line”.

The columns included Russian T64 tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

Monitors later reported hundreds of salvos of rockets, heavy artillery, and mortar fire from Russian-occupied positions.

Ukraine returned artillery fire, with reports indicating that dozens of fighters died on both sides before “calm” returned on Wednesday afternoon.

For its part, Ukraine says the attempt to capture Marinka involved more than 1,000 pro-Russian ground troops.

It informed the OSCE “heavy weapons would be placed on the contact line in order to deal with the ‘real threat’,” the town could fall.

The OSCE said pro-Russian rebel commanders “were unavailable or did not wish to speak”.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, and a pro-Russian rebel commander, Vladimir Kononov, later told Russian state media the fighting was prompted by Ukrainian “provocations”.

They said Ukrainian shelling injured 60 civilians in Donetsk, some of whom are “without arms and legs”. But OSCE monitors aren’t being let in to verify the claims.

The flare-up saw Ukrainian leaders and the US State Department renew talk of Russia sanctions.

Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk said: “The international community must come up with a correct and appropriate response to Russian aggression”.

Marie Harf, a US spokeswoman, said: “Russia bears direct responsibility for preventing these attacks … any attempts to seize additional Ukrainian territory will be met with increased costs”.

She noted the Marinka assault was launched by “combined Russian-separatist forces”.

She said Ukraine is also guilty of a “very small minority” of ceasefire violations.

But she added: “The Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves when Russia sends into their territory heavy weapons, tanks, fighters … [also] across the ceasefire line”.

The Marinka attack came ahead of a meeting of G7 leaders in Germany at the weekend.

It also came two weeks before an EU summit which will decide whether to cancel, extend, or expand Russia economic sanctions.

The EU foreign service was unavailable to comment on Thursday morning.

The G7 nations - Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, the UK, and the US - used to meet in a G8 format with Russia.

But Russia was excluded after its annexation of Crimea last year.

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