A Ukrainian serviceman test fires his rifle at a checkpoint
near the town of Debaltseve, in Donetsk region.
Government forces have 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
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 to end the wider conflict, the worst
standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended
in 1991, 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.
U.S. President Barack Obama also vented his frustration with
Russia after speaking to President Vladimir Putin by
telephone on Friday. 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
"But sometimes people don't always act rationally, and they
don't always act based on their medium- or long-term
interests," he said.
RUSSIA SEES EU "DOUBLE STANDARDS"
The United States and the European Union imposed new
sanctions on Moscow this week after accusing Putin of failing
to use his influence with the separatists to end the fighting
in the mainly Russian-speaking east.
Putin denies arming the rebels and accuses the West of
pursuing a policy of containment against Moscow, using a Cold
War-era phrase to suggest Washington wants to reduce Russia's
In a new attack on Western policy, Russia's Foreign Ministry
accused the EU of "double standards", saying it was punishing
the Russian defence sector with the latest sanctions but "on
the quiet" had ended restrictions on sales of military
technology and equipment to Ukraine.
"We call again on our EU colleagues to follow sound logic and
not conjecture and goading from Washington," the Foreign
Ministry said, questioning the EU's "dubious political
The EU overcame the reservations of some business leaders,
particularly in Germany, to agree the latest sanctions.
Indicating this would have an impact on the EU's largest
economy, the head of Germany's Ifo institute said economic
growth would shrink towards zero in the second quarter
because of the Ukraine crisis and the new sanctions.
The rebellion in east Ukraine began in mid-April, two months
after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted after
he shifted policy away from the EU towards Moscow, and one
month after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.
The army has been making advances against the separatists
since President Petro Poroshenko stepped up the military
campaign against them after his election in May, and fighting
intensified after the Malaysian airliner was downed on July
The United States says the separatists probably shot down the
plane by mistake with a Russian-supplied missile. The rebels
and Moscow deny the accusation and blame the disaster, in
which 298 people were killed, on Kiev.
The Ukrainian military reported three cases of shooting from
across the border with Russia overnight, a charge it has
levelled at Moscow increasingly often.
Moscow denies such accusations, and Russia's RIA news agency
quoted border guards as saying nine shells had been fired
from Ukrainian territory onto Russian soil.