Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko holds a news
conference at the European Council headquarters during an
EU summit in Brussels. REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule
Ukraine said Russian tanks had flattened a small border
town and pro-Russian rebels had made fresh gains in its east,
as EU leaders signalled they would threaten more sanctions
against Moscow over the crisis.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, attending an EU summit
in Brussels, said he was hoping for a political solution, but
warned that his country was on the brink of full-scale war.
Russia has repeatedly dismissed accusations from Kiev and
Western powers that it has sent soldiers into its neighbour,
or supported pro-Russian rebels fighting a five-month-old
separatist war in Ukraine's east.
But Ukraine military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told
journalists in Kiev that Russian tanks had entered the small
Ukrainian town of Novosvitlivka on the border with Russia and
fired on every house.
"We have information that virtually every house has been
destroyed," Lysenko added, without giving details on when the
reported attack took place. Ukraine's daily military
briefings typically cover the previous 24 hours.
Lysenko said the rebels had made new gains just east of the
border city of Luhansk, one of the rebels' main strongholds,
after opening up a new front in another area last week.
"Direct military aggression by the Russian Federation in the
east of Ukraine is continuing. The Russians are continuing to
send military equipment and 'mercenaries'," Ukraine's defence
and security council said in a separate Twitter post.
Kiev and Western countries say recent rebel gains were the
result of the arrival of armoured columns of Russian troops,
sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to prop up a
separatist rebellion that would otherwise have been near
There was no immediate fresh comment from Russia on Saturday.
Putin on Friday compared Kiev's drive to regain control of
its rebellious eastern cities to the Nazi invasion of the
Soviet Union in World War Two.
"NO TIME TO WASTE"
EU leaders meeting in Brussels appointed Polish Prime
Minister Donald Tusk as president of the European Council,
giving hawkish Kremlin critics in Eastern Europe new
influence in the bloc.
According to a draft statement from the summit, the EU
leaders were set to ask the European Commission and the EU's
diplomatic service "to urgently undertake preparatory work"
on further sanctions that could be implemented if necessary.
French President Francois Hollande stressed that a failure by
Russia to reverse a flow of weapons and troops into eastern
Ukraine would force the bloc to impose new economic measures.
"Are we going to let the situation worsen, until it leads to
war?" Hollande said at a news conference. "Because that's the
risk today. There is no time to waste."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU
was prepared to toughen sanctions against Russia but also
that it wanted a political deal to end the confrontation.
"We are ready to take very strong and clear measures but we
are keeping our doors open to a political solution," Barroso
said at a news conference with Ukraine's president.
Poroshenko said the crisis was close to a tipping point.
"I think we are very close to the point of no return. The
point of no return is full-scale war, which already happened
on the territory controlled by separatists," he said.
He added, however, that a trilateral meeting on Monday
involving representatives of Kiev, Moscow and the European
Union could produce a ceasefire.
The crisis started when Ukraine's Moscow-backed president was
ousted by street protests in February after he ditched a pact
with the EU that would have moved the ex-Soviet republic
firmly towards Europe and away from Russia.
Russia denounced the pro-Western leadership that took over as
"a fascist junta" and went on to annex Ukraine's Crimea
peninsula. Pro-Russian separatists then rebelled in Ukraine's
mainly Russian-speaking east in April, setting up 'people's
republics' and declaring they wanted to join Russia.
A senior U.N. human rights official said on Friday nearly
2,600 civilians, Ukrainian government forces and rebels had
been killed in a conflict which has led to the biggest
Russia-West crisis since the Cold War.
In Kiev, Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a
group of pro-Ukrainian fighters had broken out of
encirclement by pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk early on
Saturday, though other reports suggested many remained
Defence Minister Valery Heletey also ordered a clamp-down on
information coming out of Ilovaysk, a town to the east of
Indicating government forces were being pulled back from the
area, Heletey said on his Facebook page: "As soon as the
danger for Ukrainian units has passed, all open information
for the current period relating to the withdrawal of forces
from Ilovaysk will be published."
Last week pro-Russian rebels opened a new front in a
separate, coastal territory along the Sea of Azov and pushed
Ukrainian troops out of the town of Novoazovsk. They are now
threatening the strategic port city of Mariupol.
Several shots were fired on Saturday at a car carrying
Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the breakaway Donetsk
People's Republic, but he escaped unscathed, another
separatist leader, Sergei Kavtaradze, told Reuters.
"Zakharchenko wasn't hurt. His driver was wounded and is
being operated on," Kavtaradze said, adding that an operation
was under way to catch whoever had fired the shots.