Rebels fired a shoulder-launched missile that struck and damaged a
SU-24 attack plane, a military spokesman said, while one Ukrainian
border guard was killed in the early hours in a mortar attack on his
post on the border with Russia.
"The armed forces and the National Guard are continuing the
offensive on terrorists and criminals. The actions of our military
are effective and are having results," parliament speaker Oleksander
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, under pressure at home to take
a forceful line against separatists who have been fighting
government forces since April, refused to renew a ceasefire on
Monday night and ordered a government offensive "to answer the
terrorists, militants and marauders."
That move won backing from the United States, but drew criticism
from Russian President Vladimir Putin who said the newly-elected
Ukrainian leader had veered off the road to peace.
Separatism erupted in the Russian-speaking east in April, when
rebels seized buildings and strategic points, declaring "people's
republics" and saying they wanted union with Russia. As of June 30,
a total of 191 Ukrainian service personnel have been killed,
including 145 soldiers, Andriy Lytsenko, a spokesman for the
national security and defence council, said on Wednesday. Hundreds
of civilians and rebels have been killed. In a fresh attempt to stop
the spread of the crisis, which has caused the biggest Russia-West
confrontation since the Cold War, Russian, Ukrainian, German and
French foreign ministers were to meet in Berlin later on Wednesday.
Diplomats cautioned against expectations of a breakthrough.
"There is not a precise objective. It's an opportunity to work on
peace efforts, but we don't want to raise expectations," a French
diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had backed the idea of the
meeting with France's Laurent Fabius and Ukraine's Pavlo Klimkin
during a phone conversation with his German counterpart Frank-Walter
Steinmeier late on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry said.
Poroshenko, who accuses Russia of fanning the conflict and allowing
fighters and equipment to cross the border to support the rebels,
turned his back on another renewal of a 10-day unilateral ceasefire
after phone talks involving Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel
and French President Francois Hollande.
"RIGHT TO DEFEND COUNTRY"
While Poroshenko came under attack from Putin, the United States
rallied to his defence on Tuesday, with a State Department
spokeswoman saying he "has a right to defend his country".
"It takes two to keep a ceasefire," U.S. State Department
spokeswoman Marie Harf told a news briefing. "President Poroshenko
put in place a seven-day ceasefire; he abided by it, but the fact
remains that the separatists, many of them weren't adhering to it,
and he has a right to defend his country."
[to top of second column]
Poroshenko and his security chiefs say the rebels carried out
numerous breaches of the ceasefire, initially declared for a week on
June 20 and extended by three more days on June 27.
foreign ministry says 27 servicemen have been killed since the start
of the ceasefire.
The 48-year-old leader, who says he is still committed to a peace
plan which has been largely ignored by the rebels, faces a possible
popular backlash at home if he does not take a more forceful line.
There was no immediate word on overnight military successes by
government forces, although acting defence minister Mykhailo Koval
said late on Monday that they had carried out strikes against 120
"We have to eliminate the (rebel) fighters who have brought
misfortune to the land of the Donbass. And we are doing just that,"
he said on TV channel "Ukraina", referring to the coal mining region
where the rebels have declared independence.
Military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky said the pilot of the
SU-24 aircraft that was struck by a rebel missile on Wednesday
managed to bring the plane under control and "destroy" the enemy
He said that since the launch of the new offensive on Tuesday one
Ukrainian paratrooper had been killed by sniper fire and 13 others
Ukraine has been in turmoil since a Moscow-backed president, Viktor
Yanukovich, walked away from a free-trade deal with the European
Union last year. He was toppled in February after street
demonstrations. Moscow responded by seizing Ukraine's Crimea region
in March, before the rebels rose up in the east.
On Friday, Poroshenko, defying threats by Russia to carry out
retaliatory trade action, signed the EU deal that Yanukovich had
rejected last November.
The EU and the United States have imposed sanctions on lists of
Russian officials and small firms they blame for undermining
Ukraine's territorial integrity, and have threatened more serious
economic measures if Moscow does not rein in the rebels. Russia
denies supporting them.
(Writing by Richard Balmforth)
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