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Ukraine prepares for possible 'rebel offensive'

November 12, 2014

Ukraine's defense minister says government military forces are preparing for a possible new offensive by separatists in the country's east. It comes as international observers report spotting weapons convoys on the move.

Military trucks are seen through a car window as they drive along a road on the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in Makiivka (Makeyevka) in Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, November 11, 2014.
Image: Reuters/M. Zmeyev

Kyiv is making preparations and redeploying soldiers in response to fears of a new military offensive by pro-Russian separatist forces, Ukrainian Defense minister Stepan Poltorak told a government meeting on Wednesday.

"I see my main task is to prepare for military action," Poltorak said, explaining that Ukraine was repositioning its armed forces to respond to the actions of the separatist fighters, which he said included receiving reinforcements despite a September 5 ceasefire agreement.

That agreement, signed in Minsk, has been repeatedly violated and observers have expressed fears the situation could slide back into all-out violence.

According to the AFP news agency, Poltorak described the current situation in the conflict area as "complicated but stable."

Military movements

On Tuesday the Organization for Secutrity and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the Ukraine situation, reported spotting an unmarked military convoy of 43 trucks in separatist-held territory and warned of the risk of further escalation.

And, according to the AFP news agency, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, US General Philip Breedlove, added his voice to the allegations on Wednesday.

"We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine," he said.

That was denied by a spokesperson from Russia's defense ministry, with General-Major Igor Konashenkov saying "there was and is no evidence" behind such statements.

Kyiv last week said more than 30 tanks had entered eastern Ukraine from Russia.

Moscow has denied involvement in the fighting.

According to Russian news agency Interfax, the separatists denied having Russian weapons and said they were relocating troops to Donetsk because of shelling from Kyiv's forces.

"We got many armored vehicles when encircled Ukrainian army units gave them up - now they are our trophies," Boris Litvinov, a senior rebel leader in Donetsk was quotes as saying.

The conflict, in which 4,000 people have been killed since April, has seen relations between Russia and the West deteriorate to their lowest point since the Cold War.

se/es (AFP, Reuters, dpa)