Ukraine fears return to 'full-scale fighting' as Russia reinforces rebels
UN Security Council convened its 26th emergency meeting on the conflict
Ukraine said on Wednesday it was redeploying troops in the east because of fears that separatists will launch a new military offensive, despite Russia's denials it has sent troops to reinforce the rebels.
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A ceasefire agreed by the pro-Russian rebels and government forces more than two months ago is now all but dead, and Western fears of a return to all-out conflict are growing.
U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said the alliance had seen Russian troops and tanks entering Ukraine in the past few days, confirming reports by international observers.
Let me say very clearly: The only reason why the open war in the east of Ukraine hasn't started yet is because of Ukraine's restraint- Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN
"There is no question any more about Russia's direct military involvement in Ukraine," Breedlove said in Bulgaria.
A Russian Defence Ministry official, Gen.-Maj. Igor Konashenkov, said in Moscow that "there were and are no facts" behind such statements and Russia had given up paying attention to such accusations by NATO.
Security Council meets for 26th time
Just hours after Breedlove commented, the UN Security Council convened its 26th emergency meeting on the conflict in Ukraine and warned of a return to "full-scale fighting" in the coming weeks.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council that Russia "talks of peace, but it keeps fuelling war." The United States called the emergency meeting.
Russia's deputy representative, Alexander Pankin, began his remarks by warning that council meetings should not turn into farces and called the storm of criticism from fellow council members "yet another foray into propaganda with new flourishes."
Ukraine's ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, sounded his own warning: "Let me say very clearly: The only reason why the open war in the east of Ukraine hasn't started yet is because of Ukraine's restraint," he said.
'Prepare for military action'
Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak left no doubt that Kyiv was also no longer paying attention to Moscow's denials of providing the rebels with direct military support in the worst diplomatic standoff with the West since the Cold War.
"We are repositioning our armed forces to respond to the actions of the (rebel) fighters," Poltorak told a government meeting in Kyiv. "My main task is to prepare for military action."
He gave no details of the troop movements.
The ceasefire was agreed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk on Sept. 5 after weeks of fierce fighting between government forces and separatists who rebelled in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine against the rule of Kyiv's Western-looking government eight months ago.
The truce has been violated daily, and increasingly since the rebels held what the West and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said were illegitimate leadership elections on Nov. 2. The death toll has passed 4,000 since the truce was agreed, with Kyiv accusing Moscow of sending more troops last week.
Donetsk, one of two rebel strongholds in the east, has experienced the most intensive shelling to date in the conflict within the last several weeks.
Unidentified convoy, soldiers in Donetsk
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg expressed concern about what he called a "significant military build-up".
"This is a severe threat to the ceasefire," he said. "I call on Russia to pull back its forces and equipment from Ukraine, and to fully respect the Minsk agreements."
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President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of instigating a coup that ousted a Moscow-backed president in Kyiv in February after months of street protests, and of trying to use the crisis to prevent Russia's rise as a global power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by phone that the ceasefire deal must be upheld, rejecting accusations that Moscow is to blame for its collapse.
A Reuters reporter, however, saw unidentified military trucks in the centre of Donetsk on Wednesday, with soldiers in green uniform without insignia standing nearby. Russian soldiers spotted by local residents have often worn no insignia.
Kyiv's fear is that Putin, who annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March, wants to expand the territory controlled by the separatists with another military push like the one that turned the tide in the rebels' favour in August.
War threatens Ukraine's economy
Moscow denied sending in troops and armour in August but said some Russians may have been there as volunteers during their holidays. A large number of Russian soldiers are among the dead in the conflict.
The prospect of all-out war returning to eastern Ukraine has piled pressure on the country's struggling economy, sending the hryvnia currency plummeting. The cost of insuring exposure to Ukraine's debt hit five-year highs on Wednesday, while its dollar bonds were sold off heavily.
Russia is also suffering an economic downturn aggravated by Western economic sanctions over the conflict, with the rouble falling nearly 30 per cent against the dollar this year.
But Putin has shown no sign of changing policy on Ukraine and the EU has signalled it will not ease sanctions on Russia when it meets to discuss them next week
With files from The Associated Press