Tensions rise as pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian military accuse each other of shelling
Russian-backed separatist forces and the Ukrainian military accused each other of firing and shelling across the ceasefire line in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region on Thursday, a development that threatens to escalate tensions at a time when Western nations have warned of a possible Russian invasion.
The Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic, two separatist groups backed by Moscow, have alleged that the Ukrainian army fired grenades and mortars into their territory.
Ukrainian officials responded by alleging eight ceasefire violations by rebel groups in the past 24 hours, including a shell that reportedly hit a kindergarten building.
Reuters reported that an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission recorded multiple shellings along the disputed region early on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the OSCE monitoring group said it had detected 24 ceasefire violations in the Donetsk region and 129 ceasefire violations in the Luhansk region.
Such incidents have occurred frequently since the ceasefire took effect in 2015, but Thursday’s incidents come amid heightened warnings of a possible Russian military invasion of Ukraine.
The US State Department warned on Wednesday that Russia could use false claims about the conflict in the Donbass region as a pretext for a full-fledged military invasion of Ukraine. State Department spokesman Ned Price alleged that Russian officials and media published “entirely false” stories about unnamed mass graves of civilians allegedly killed by Ukrainian armed forces, as well as allegations that the United States and Ukraine are jointly developing biological or chemical weapons for use in the region. .
U.S. officials on Wednesday dismissed Russia’s claim that its military forces have begun to withdraw from the Ukrainian border. A senior Biden administration official told reporters that despite his claims, Russia was “privately mobilizing for war” and that 7,000 new troops would have joined some 150,000 Russian troops already stationed near Ukraine. A day earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that part of the combat troops deployed along the Ukrainian border were being returned to their garrisons. Following the announcement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted such a move was still on the table, as he mocked Western leaders and claimed they would take credit for the supposed de-escalation. Russia has remained firm in its assertions that it will not invade Ukraine, and its military build-up is simply part of internal combat training exercises.
Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists trade allegations of ceasefire violations (Wall Street Journal)
Shelling erupts in eastern Ukraine as West and Moscow fight over troops (Reuters)
US says Russia moved 7,000 new troops near Ukraine, despite claims of de-escalation (Forbes)