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Ukraine says Russian army officers fighting with rebels

Black smoke billows following a mortar attack during fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian fighters in Luhansk, Ukraine, Monday, July 14, 2014. (AP Photo, Yuri Snegirev, Rossiyiskaya Gazeta)

KIEV: Ukraine Monday accused Russian army officers of fighting alongside separatists in the east of the country and said Moscow was once more building up its troops on the joint border.

A missile that downed a Ukrainian transport plane carrying eight people near the border was probably fired from Russia, Ukrainian officials said.

President Petro Poroshenko held an emergency meeting of his security chiefs after a weekend of Ukrainian airstrikes on rebel positions near the border with Russia and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with a cross-border shell.

The war of words between Kiev and Moscow and intense fighting, in which Ukrainian forces say they inflicted heavy losses on the rebels, marked a sharp escalation in the three-and-a-half-month conflict in which several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed.

Accusing Russia of embarking on a course of escalation in Ukraine’s eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: “In the past 24 hours, deployment of [Russian] units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border.”

NATO said Russia had boosted its forces along the border and now had 10,000-12,000 troops in the area.

Lysenko added three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 12 more injured in the fighting in the past 24 hours.

Moscow’s response to the cross-border shelling and the Ukrainian reports of Russian troops being moved up to the border raised again the prospect of Russian intervention, after weeks in which President Vladimir Putin had appeared intent on disengaging, pulling back tens of thousands of troops he had massed at the frontier.

As military action continued Monday near the rebel-controlled border town of Luhansk, Ukraine’s defense minister said a Ukrainian AN-26 transport plane, taking part in the military campaign against the rebels, had been shot down by a rocket which was “probably” fired from Russian territory.

Officials said two crew members, out of the eight people on board, had been in contact with the army general staff and a search and rescue operation was underway. The fate of the other six people was not immediately known.

Defense Minister Valery Heletey said the plane had been flying at a height of 6,500 meters and was out of range of any weapon the separatists had.

“So the plane was downed from another, more powerful rocket weapon which was fired, probably, from the territory of the Russian Federation,” he said, according to Poroshenko’s website.

Lysenko said separatists, backed by what he described as Russian “mercenaries,” had fired on Ukrainian border guards in an attempt to give cover as armored vehicles and equipment were being brought into the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 15, 2014, on page 11.

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