Armed pro-Russian separatists ambushed a convoy of Ukrainian self-defence fighters today, two days before a presidential election. A number of Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in the attack, which took place near the eastern city of Donetsk, military sources said.
‘They (the separatists) are using automatic weapons, snipers and grenade launchers against the battalion,’ Semen Semenchenko, the commander of a pro-Ukrainian militia group called the Donbass region battalion, said on his Facebook page.
Yuri Bereza, the commander of pro-Ukrainian self-defence forces in a nearby region who had headed to the scene, told Reuters by telephone: ‘The fighting is still going on, we are evacuating the wounded.’ He gave no figure for the wounded
Hours later, Russia accused the West of triggering the Ukrainian crisis by its ‘megalomania,’ as fighting continued in Ukraine’s east between pro-Russia insurgents and government forces two days before a presidential election.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged the West to reach a settlement based on mutual interests.
‘If we sincerely want to help the Ukrainian people overcome this crisis, it’s necessary to abandon the notorious zero-sum games, stop encouraging xenophobic and neo-Nazi sentiments and get rid of dangerous megalomania,’ Lavrov said in a speech at a security conference in Moscow organized by the Russian Defense Ministry.
Speaking at the same conference, the head of the General Staff of the Russian military, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, blamed the West for encouraging massive protests that chased Ukraine’s pro-Russian president from power in February.
In the deadliest clash yet in the conflict in Ukraine, three armoured vehicles were destroyed and a series of other lorries and vans burned out.
The destruction of armoured vehicles shows that the rebels have access to heavy weaponry and are not lightly-armed freelance operators. It is likely to raise fears that they have been armed by Moscow.
A group of rebels in the town of Horlivka claimed responsibility for the attack near the village of Blahodatne, near the town of Volnovakha, Donetsk.
They produced an array of weapons they said they had seized from the soldiers, in what is the deadliest raid in weeks of fighting in the region. But a Ukrainian commander said shortly after the attack: ‘The war has started.’
Meanwhile, Russia’s top general said today that Moscow would retaliate against increased NATO activity near its border as tensions with the western alliance over Ukraine escalate.
Since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, NATO has moved to reassure its nervous eastern European allies. Ships and planes have been temporarily deployed to their countries and military exercises in the region stepped up.
‘NATO’s military groupings in the Baltic states, Poland and Romania are being built up, as well as the military presence of the bloc in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea,’ General Valery Gerasimov, the chief of general staff of the Russian armed forces, told a defence conference in Moscow.
‘The intensity, the operational and combat readiness of the alliance’s troops is being increased near the Russian border. In these circumstances … we have to take retaliatory measures.’