Ukraine vows to push on with army offensive
Ukraine's government vowed today to press ahead with a military offensive against separatists, despite a deadly attack on an army helicopter, amid increasing reports that volunteer fighters from Russia were involved in rebellions in the east.
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 yesterday 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 today that Ukrainian forces would continue with military operations in border areas "until these regions begin to live normally, until there is peace".
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 "euromaidan" 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 volunteer 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.