Ukraine forces kill up to five rebels; Russia starts drill near border

SLAVIANSK, Ukraine/ST PETERSBURG, Russia, (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Moscow rebels yesterday as they closed in on the separatists’ military stronghold in the east, and Russia launched army drills near the border in response, raising fears its troops would invade.

The Ukrainian offensive amounts to the first time Kiev’s troops have used lethal force to recapture territory from the fighters, who have seized swaths of eastern Ukraine since April 6 and proclaimed an independent “People’s Republic of Donetsk.”

Ukraine’s acting president accused Moscow of supporting “terrorism at the state level” against his country for backing the rebels, whom the government blames for kidnapping and torturing a politician found dead on Saturday.

“The window to change course is closing,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned in a hastily arranged appearance in the State Department, where he cited President Barack Obama’s comments earlier on Thursday that Washington was ready to impose new sanctions if Moscow did not alter its policy. In unusually blunt comments, Kerry accused Russia of using propaganda to hide what he said it was actually trying to do in eastern Ukraine – destabilize the region and undermine next month’s planned Ukrainian presidential elections.

“So following today’s threatening movement of Russian troops right up to Ukraine’s border, let me be clear,” Kerry said. “If Russia continues in this direction, it will not just be a grave mistake, it will be an expensive mistake.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said sanctions were “dishonourable” and destroyed the global economy but that so far the damage had not been critical. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said its forces backed by the army had removed three checkpoints manned by armed groups in the separatist-controlled city of Slaviansk.

“During the armed clash, up to five terrorists were eliminated,” it said in a statement, adding one person had been wounded on the side of the government forces.

A rebel spokeswoman in Slaviansk said two fighters had died in a clash in the same area, northeast of the city centre. Slaviansk’s separatist self-proclaimed mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, quoted on a local news site, said one man was shot dead and another badly wounded on the northeastern outskirts of the city. He said the dead had been unarmed.

The Kremlin, which says it has the right to invade its neighbour to protect Russian speakers, has built up forces on Ukraine’s border – estimated by NATO at up to 40,000 troops.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Moscow had launched military drills near the border in response to “Ukraine’s military machine” and NATO exercises in Eastern Europe. Kiev demanded an explanation within 48 hours of action on the border. Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last month after President Vladimir Putin overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy by announcing the right to use military force in neighbouring countries. An invasion of mainland Ukraine’s industrial heartland would be a far more serious action. It had seemed beyond contemplation only weeks ago but now looks like a real threat, although the full extent of Putin’s territorial ambitions remains a mystery.

Latest in World News

Boris Johnson

Ex-London mayor Johnson abruptly quits race to be prime minister

LONDON, (Reuters) – Former London mayor Boris Johnson abruptly pulled out of the race to become Britain’s next prime minister today, in a shock move that upturned a political order shaken by last week’s vote to leave the European Union.

(L-R) Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama pose for family photo at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

North America leaders mount strong defence of trade despite threats

OTTAWA,  (Reuters) – Canada, the United States and Mexico yesterday mounted a fierce defence of free trade, vowing to deepen economic ties despite an increasingly acrimonious debate about the value of globalization.

default placeholder

Obama urges Venezuela to respect democratic process

OTTAWA, (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday urged the Venezuelan government to respect the democratic process and the rule of law, including allowing the release of political prisoners.

default placeholder

Six Honduran police officers indicted on U.S. drug charges

NEW YORK,  (Reuters) – Six members of the Honduran National Police were indicted yesterday on U.S. charges they participated in drug trafficking activities and conspired with a son of former Honduras President Porfirio Lobo to import cocaine into the United States.

default placeholder

China risks ‘outlaw’ status if it rejects South China Sea ruling -lawyer

WASHINGTON,  (Reuters) – An international ruling next month is expected to deprive China of any legal basis for its claim to most of the South China Sea, and Beijing risks being seen as an “outlaw state” unless it respects the outcome, the Philippines’ chief lawyer in the case said yesterday.

default placeholder

Fresh details spur debate on police response to Orlando massacre

(Reuters) – The release of police dispatch records offering new details from witnesses of the Orlando nightclub massacre provided fresh grist yesterday for the debate about whether law enforcement waited too long to take out the gunman.

default placeholder

India’s top court to consider intervening in Muslim ‘triple talaq’ divorce law

NEW DELHI,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – India’s Supreme Court said it will examine how far it could interfere in Muslim laws governing family-related issues as it heard a plea to end a practice allowing Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying “talaq” three times.

Malala Yousafzai

Price of fame: Pakistani schoolgirl Malala joins millionaires’ club

LONDON,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenage education activist who survived a near-fatal attack by the Taliban, and her family have become millionaires in under four years due to sales of a book about her life and appearances on the global speaker circuit.

Comments

About these comments

The comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity.

Stay updated! Follow Stabroek News on Facebook or Twitter.

Get the day's headlines from SN in your inbox every morning: