Ahead of Ukraine vote, fighting continues in east
Fighting continued Friday between pro-Russian separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine, two days before a presidential election.
Witnesses and Kyiv security officials reported clashes in the towns of Semenovka and Rubizhne, as well as the region of Donetsk.
Thirteen government troops were killed in a separatist attack late Thursday in Donetsk, raising fears of violence before Sunday’s vote.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence, saying all parties should redouble efforts to ensure a free, fair and safe election.
Ukrainian officials blame Russia for trying to escalate the conflict and disrupt the election, which Moscow has reluctantly supported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday blamed the West’s so-called “dangerous megalomania” for triggering the crisis.
Speaking at a Moscow conference, Lavrov also said the West was trying to contain Russia using Cold War-era tactics.
Hopes pinned on election
Sunday’s presidential election is seen as a crucial step toward resolving a political crisis that threatens to split Ukraine.
Ukraine’s government is deploying tens of thousands of police to secure the vote. But that task could be difficult in the east, where rebels have seized over a dozen cities.
Russia has accused Kyiv of stepping up military operations in rebel-held areas and failing to implement measures to end the crisis.
Meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry said 20 trains and 15 planes full of troops have been moved out of the border area with Ukraine.
Also Thursday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said there has been “limited” Russian troop activity near the Ukrainian border that “may suggest some of these forces are preparing to withdraw.”
NATO’s top military commander, U.S. General Philip Breedlove, said Thursday that “a very large” Russian force remains in the area “in a very coercive posture.”
(Photo: Ukraine defence ministry)