By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday military action by the Ukrainian government would prompt an “inevitable further escalation of the conflict” with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and undermine any peacemaking.
Russia has stepped up criticism of Kiev since violence has intensified in the conflict, where a ceasefire collapsed after rebels drove Ukrainian government forces out of Donetsk airport.
A rebel advance launched last week appears to have buried the frequently violated truce. The separatists say they want to drive back government forces and their artillery out of range of the cities they hold and improve their grip on strongholds.
“The latest military actions provoked by Kiev will lead to the inevitable further escalation of the conflict (and) undermine efforts taken by the international community to end the bloodshed,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the rebels in Donetsk, said the terms of the ceasefire agreement, signed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk in September, were no longer effective.
“The form in which the Minsk agreement was signed doesn’t work anymore, but we’re prepared to continue talks,” news agency RIA reported him as saying.
Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of supporting the rebels, while the Kremlin denies sending soldiers or arms to the separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk areas.
“Russia is on a path of isolation and it is driving the whole world into a state of cold war with hot conflicts,” Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said at a government meeting, calling for a united response from the international community in the face of Russian “aggression.”
With the latest outbreak of fighting, the EU has prepared a draft for its sanctions against Moscow to be extended by six months and expanding the number of targets.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said there had been 68 cases of shelling of civilian areas in the last day, including mortar bombs it said were fired by Ukrainian government forces at the rebel-held city of Luhansk and its surroundings.
Meanwhile in Kiev, the Ukrainian military said a total of 55 Ukrainian towns and villages had come under fire from the rebels over the past 24 hours.
Fighting over the last nine months has killed 5,000 people and caused more than a million people to flee.