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Pentagon, Kremlin trade accusations on Ukraine

The United States has denied claims by Russia that US troops were present eastern Ukraine. Moscow's allegation came in reply to US charges of Russia planting more air defense systems in Ukraine's rebel areas.

The Pentagon on Thursday condemned Russia's claims that US troops were training Ukrainian forces (pictured above) in rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, calling it Moscow's ploy to obscure its own activity in the region.

"This is a ridiculous attempt to shift the focus away from what is actually happening in eastern Ukraine," Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez told reporters.

"Russia continues to supply lethal weapons, training and command and control support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Moscow's Minsk commitments and Ukraine's sovereignty," Lainez added.

War of words

Russia earlier rejected

accusations by the United States

that it had increased the number of its air defense systems in eastern Ukraine, calling the US State Department's comments "strikingly incompetent."

Moscow was training separatist rebels and also shipping heavy weapons into eastern Ukraine in violation of the cease-fire agreement, the US had alleged.

Russia got back at Washington, accusing it in turn of sending military instructors to conflict areas. Earlier this week,

300 US troops were officially welcomed by Ukraine's President Poroshenko and began training members of Ukraine's National Guard in Lviv in western Ukraine

.

"This is not happening on the Yavoriv training base… as shown on Ukrainian TV, but directly in the battle zone," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters, referring to the areas in eastern Ukraine where Kyiv's forces were battling pro-Russian rebels.

Cease-fire remains fragile

More than 6,000 people have died in the conflict between Kyiv and pro-Russian separatists that began last year. A cease-fire arranged by Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine in February has been only partially successful in bringing peace to the area.

"The cease-fire remains fragile. The situation for the local population remains precarious," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) head Ertugrul Apakan told reporters. The organization has sent observers to Ukraine to monitor the cease-fire.

mg/sms (dpa, Reuters)

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