President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who scored an overwhelming
first-round victory in a poll on May 25, swore to punish those
responsible for the shooting down on Thursday of the helicopter near
Slaviansk, which killed 14 servicemen including a general.
Acting Defence Minister Mykhilo Koval, repeating charges that Russia
was carrying out "special operations" in the east of Ukraine, said
on Friday that Ukrainian forces would continue with military
operations in border areas "until these regions begin to live
normally, until there is peace".
Elsewhere in Ukraine's troubled eastern regions, a separatist group
detained a second four-person team of monitors of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Vienna-based OSCE said.
Last Monday separatists in another area detained a four-man OSCE
team and have not yet released them.
Ukrainian authorities have long alleged that the rebellions have
been fomented by Moscow among the largely Russian-speaking
population, which is especially vulnerable to cross-border
propaganda hostile to Kiev's "Euro-Maidan" revolution that overthrew
Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich in February.
Reports by Ukrainian border authorities and journalists on the
ground now appear to show increasing evidence of direct involvement
by fighters from Russia in the rebellions that erupted two months
ago in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea.
According to these reports, fighters may be coming into Ukraine from
former hotspots in Russia and its North Caucasus fringes such as
Chechnya whose own troubles in the past 20 years have spawned a
proliferation of armed groups.
Ukraine's authorities say Russian border guards are doing nothing to
stop fighters crossing the long land border from Russia, along with
truck loads of ammunition and weapons.
In the latest such report, Ukrainian border guards said on Friday
they had seized a cache of weapons including guns, machine-guns,
grenade-launchers, sniper rifles and 84 boxes of live ammunition in
two cars they stopped as they crossed from Russia.
A total of 13 people were detained, the border guard service said in
a statement on its website.
Reuters correspondents in Donetsk, an industrial city and one of the
main separatist centres, saw coffins loaded onto a vegetable truck
on Thursday and driven off after being told by rebels that
"volunteers" from Russia killed earlier in the week in an army
offensive were being repatriated.
An official of the Ukrainian border guard service said on Friday
that bodies of slain Russian nationals were being allowed to return
to Russia for humanitarian reasons.
"We don't need them to fertilise the land of Ukraine," Serhiy
Astakhov, an aide to the head of the border guard service, said in
Kiev in reply to a journalist's question.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov says weapons that could only have
been brought in from Russia were found at the scene of Donetsk
airport after it was cleared of rebels.
The reports have revived Russia-West tensions that had eased
slightly after Moscow pulled back thousands of its troops from the
border with Ukraine in what the United States described as a
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The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that Secretary of State
John Kerry had pressed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to end
all Russian support for separatists and call on them to lay down
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said Russia was clearly
behind the violent unrest, though there were no immediately
effective steps the West could take to stop it.
48-year-old wealthy businessman who has emerged as a national leader
from six months of turmoil, will plunge into a hectic round of
meetings with world leaders next week with the fate of his country
on their minds.
He will hold talks on the crisis with U.S. President Barack Obama in
Warsaw on June 3-4 when both men attend events marking Poland's
emergence from communist rule.
Then later at the end of the week in France he will have the
opportunity to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as
European leaders, at an international gathering marking the "D-Day"
World War Two landings in Normandy.
Poroshenko voiced support for a resumption of the military drive
against the separatists as soon as it became clear he had been
overwhelmingly voted in as president last Sunday. The day after the
vote, Ukrainian forces attacked rebels who seized Donetsk
international airport, killing 50 of their number in fierce
Poroshenko, due to be inaugurated on June 7, has vowed to punish the
perpetrators of the attack on the Ukrainian helicopter.
In a step to resolving a long-standing row over gas deliveries which
has long bedevilled Ukraine's relations with its main supplier
Russia, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said Ukraine had paid $786
million to Russia in back payments.
Russia's energy minister said in Berlin on Friday that talks aimed a
settling a gas debt which Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly,
says will be at about $5.2 billion by June 7 should be able to
continue next week.
Donetsk, an industrial hub of 1 million where strategic buildings
are being held by rebels, was quiet on Friday. But the airport
violence brought a subdued air to the last day of the school year
when school-leavers usually celebrate in the parks with champagne
Long lines were forming at the city's railway station following
Monday and Tuesday's clashes as many people headed out of the city
for safety reasons.
Vita, a middle-aged woman waiting with her daughter and little
granddaughter for a train to Moscow, said: "We are really concerned
with what is going on, I need to take away my pregnant daughter.
We'll leave her with my sister in Moscow and come back to my husband
who stayed at home with all our belongings."
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Donetsk and Natalya
Zinets in Kiev; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Peter
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