MOSCOW, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Clashes that took place in eastern Ukraine on Thursday were the biggest since 2015 in a long-running conflict between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army, a diplomatic source said.
The source said observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had already recorded 80 ceasefire violations along the dividing line between the two sides as of Friday morning.
Pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine accused government forces of shelling a village on Friday while Russian media reported more infantry and tank units were returning to their bases in contrast to Western fears of an imminent Russian invasion.
For a second consecutive day, pro-Russian separatists who have been at war with Ukraine for years said they had come under mortar and artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, according to the Interfax news agency.
Kyiv and the rebels blamed each other for escalating tension after artillery and mortar attacks on Thursday, prompting fears that Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, could get involved.
The Kremlin said on Thursday it was “deeply concerned” with the flare-up in Ukraine and was watching the situation closely. The United States said Russia was looking for a pretext for war.
Meanwhile, Russia’s build-up of military personnel threatening Ukraine probably totals up to 190,000, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement to an OSCE meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Friday.
“We assess that Russia probably has massed between 169,000-190,000 personnel in and near Ukraine as compared with about 100,000 on January 30,” Michael Carpenter told the meeting, which Russia did not attend.
“This is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War.”
Photo Courtesy of Ukrainian Ministry of Defence