December 19, 2014
Ukrainian forces advance in east as Russia
Government forces tightened the noose around the main stronghold of pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine and, with diplomacy stalled, Moscow and the West stepped up their war of words.
The seizure of Krasnogorovka and Staromikhailovka, towns just outside Donetsk, brought the army to the edge of one of the last cities still in rebel hands following its advances in the past month. The other is Luhansk, near the border with Russia.
Shelling near the area where a Malaysian airliner was downed last month forced international experts to stop their search for victims at one part of the crash site, but a local ceasefire enabled them to work unhindered at the main part.
Working with sniffer dogs, they recovered more human remains and personal belongings for examination, officials said.
Diplomatic efforts show no sign of progress.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said NATO must rethink its ties with Moscow and called for it to overhaul itself to be better able to defend member states from a potential Russian military threat.
"Six months into the Russia-Ukraine crisis we must agree on long-term measures to strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those allies who fear for their own country's security and to deter any Russian aggression," he wrote in a letter to fellow alliance leaders and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
US President Barack Obama also vented his frustration with Russia after speaking to President Vladimir Putin by telephone today. Obama told reporters the United States had done "everything that we can do," short of going to war, to persuade Putin of the need to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
"But sometimes people don't always act rationally, and they don't always act based on their medium- or long-term interests," he said.