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Fighting intensified in eastern Ukraine today, two days after Kiev promised a unilateral cease-fire plan and with both the Ukrainian government and NATO officials complaining of a Russian military buildup along the border.
The New York Times says there are reports of "significant casualties" in southeastern Ukraine over the past day.
Skirmishes for control of Krasny Liman, a railroad hub north of Donetsk, stretched into a second day. The Ukrainian military deployed both air and artillery strikes in attempting to oust the separatist fighters, said Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry’s campaign against the rebels.
... The rising casualty toll in Krasny Liman provided a stark counterpoint to the peace plan, underscoring the likelihood of dire consequences should it fail to take hold. [Ukrainian Defense Ministry Spokesman Vladislav] Seleznyov said that seven government troops had died and that 30 others had been injured since fighting over a conduit road into the town began Thursday morning.
He also said that 300 rebel fighters had died in the fighting since Thursday, a figure that could not be independently verified. Mr. Seleznyov said the toll was “not propaganda, that’s a hard number.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible peace plan in a phone call late on Thursday, CNN reports.
In his conversation with Putin, Poroshenko stressed the need for the release of Ukrainian hostages and to establish effective security controls on the border with Russia. Putin spoke about Ukraine in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
They called for "an early halt to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, in order to stabilize the security situation and to create the conditions for a real de-escalation," Hollande's office said.
Whether peace is actually at hand, however, is another matter. The Washington Post writes: "...As heavy fighting continued for a second day Friday, there was no indication that a cessation of war was imminent. The rebels have rejected every offer to stop fighting, and militants launched an attack at dawn Friday on government troops around the Luhansk airport, where they shot down a military transport plane last weekend."
The Kyiv Post reports that Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov posted a series of photos on his Facebook account that he says affirm direct Russian military support for pro-Moscow separatists.
Proof that Russia is helping to foment unrest in Ukraine is mounting, with Kyiv this week saying it has irrefutable, smoking-gun evidence, so to speak, of Russian military vehicles and weapons being used against its forces in the country’s embattled east.
... Ukrainian forces confiscated a BTR-80 armored personnel carrier, inside of which was a document that showed it had been checked out from a Russian military base on May 31, 2014, Avakov wrote. He said the BTR-80 was captured by National Guardsmen near Marinovki after they clashed with separatist fighters there.
Mr. Avakov also alleged that portable anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS), rocket-propelled grenades, and light weapons have all been recovered and that they are all of "Russian origin."
The Associated Press also reports indications of growing Russian support for the rebels.
Rebels were operating tanks in the region, a particular sore spot for Ukraine, which accuses Russia of letting the vehicles cross the border.
... An Associated Press reporter saw pro-Russian fighters moving in a column with two tanks and three armored personnel carriers near the town of Yanakiyeve in the direction of the town of Horlivka in the Donetsk region. The tanks flew small flags of a pro-Russian militia but otherwise had no markings. The fighters declined to say what they were doing, other than that it was a “secret operation.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen yesterday that "I can confirm that we now see a new Russian military buildup — at least a few thousand more Russian troops deployed to the Ukrainian border, and we see troop maneuvers in the neighborhood of Ukraine... 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."
Russia, for its part, says it is merely taking steps to control its border.