Ukraine reinforces front lines as peace talks creep forward

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Ukrainian tanks take part in a military exercise near Kharkiv March 14, 2014. Photo: Reuters Ukrainian tanks take part in a military exercise near Kharkiv March 14, 2014. Photo: Reuters

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Ukraine deployed new military aircraft, heavy weapons and vehicles to bolster troops fighting separatists in the country’s east as it continues peace talks with rebels and Russia’s government.
The reinforcements, which included fighter jets, armored personnel carriers and artillery, follow a September truce in which the government paused an assault after rebels drove its forces back in what the country says was a counterattack spearheaded by Russian units.
“Ukraine was able to restore its military preparedness during the cease-fire,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said today in Kiev.
If heavy weapons moved to the front line it may conflict with the Sept. 5 cease-fire agreed in Minsk, which has been broken almost daily. Ukraine has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of supplying rebels with tanks, artillery and other materiel. Putin, who says he “respects” the insurgents’ ambitions, has denied involvement in the conflict, which has triggered the worst standoff between Russia and its Cold War foes in more than a quarter century.
The reinforcements include two MiG-29 and two Su-27 fighters, 42 armored personnel carriers, 18 self-propelled howitzers and other vehicles, Lysenko said.
Crash fatalities
A bus carrying Ukrainian troops crashed near the eastern city of Artemivsk in bad weather last night, killing 12 and injuring 21, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on its website.
The accident late yesterday, two days before Ukraine celebrates Orthodox Christmas, interrupted a period of relative calm in the conflict, in which more than 4,700 people have died.
While the daily number of deaths has declined since the belligerents renewed a truce agreement last month, Ukraine has still been rocked by economic turmoil, bomb blasts in cities outside the conflict area, and attacks by rebels that Ukraine says are “provocations” aimed at prompting retaliation from its troops. Lysenko said seven Ukrainian servicemen had been captured by rebels yesterday.
Ukraine’s hryvnia lost 0.8 percent against the dollar and the yield on its 2017 dollar bond rose two percentage points to a record 36.33 percent at 2:01 p.m. in Kiev to 15.94, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In Russia, the ruble tumbled more than 3 percent to 62.72 against the greenback, its weakest since Dec. 16.
‘Heavily mined’
The government in Kiev is in talks with the rebels to release more prisoners after they handed over more than 370 captives following Dec. 24 talks in Minsk, Belarus. Ukrainian and Russian diplomats also met in Berlin yesterday with their German and French counterparts to try to bolster the truce.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Jan. 1 he’ll meet Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in the Kazakh capital Astana on Jan. 15 for talks. The meeting is not definite, however, and the French leader said he’ll go if he sees progress from Russia.
Clashes continue in the disputed eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Ukraine has “heavily mined” the front-line positions facing rebel-held territory, Lysenko said, and bypassing checkpoints is “highly dangerous.” One Ukrainian solder was wounded by a sniper since yesterday, he said.
On Saturday, 23 rebels were killed in fighting between separatist groups, Ukraine’s government said on Sunday. Among the dead was Alexander Bednov, a rebel known as “Batman” who led a battalion of the same name, according to a statement on the website of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.
A bomb blast also struck a pro-government volunteer center in the Black Sea port of Odessa on Sunday, Interfax reported. Authorities are investigating that and other explosions in Odessa and the city of Kharkiv as “acts of terrorism,” the news service reported.

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