The Latest: Russia says Ukraine is seeking military victory

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Posted: Feb 02, 2017 7:12 PM
The Latest: Russia says Ukraine is seeking military victory

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — The latest on a resurgence of fighting in Ukraine (all times local):

2:10 a.m.

Russia's U.N. ambassador is accusing Ukraine of "desperately, frantically" trying to achieve a military victory and says observers have confirmed that the escalating violence in the country's volatile east was "provoked" by Ukrainian security forces.

Vitaly Churkin claimed the Ukranian leadership needs money which it "can swindle out of the European Union, certain European countries and from the United States and from international financial institutions by pretending to be the victims of aggression."

Speaking to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, he called for an immediate cease-fire and swift de-escalation of the situation "to prevent disaster and to return the situation to the political track."

"We trust that those with common sense within Ukraine itself and also all those keen to settle issues of this kind through political means will not allow the situation in southeastern Ukraine to develop along the worse-case scenario," Churkin said.

Instead, he said, they should focus their efforts on promptly implementing the Minsk peace agreements.

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1:10 a.m.

Ukraine's U.N. ambassador is accusing the Russian army and Russian-backed separatists of starting the latest escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine with massive artillery attacks and is calling on Moscow to stop arming the militants and observe a cease-fire.

Volodymyr Yelchenko told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Ukrainian forces have continued to respect the cease-fire and have orders to open fire only in response to attacks by Russian-backed militants.

He accused the rebels of destroying critical infrastructure, continuing shelling despite calls for a cease-fire and withdrawal of heavy weapons, and shooting at a repair team trying to fix a damaged power line.

Yelchenko held up a photo of a damaged apartment building, saying at least 1,500 people who lived there fled into frigid temperatures after it was shelled. He called the attack a "war crime."

Yelchenko said the latest attacks underscore attempts by Russia and the separatists to undermine the peace process and called for an enhanced international security presence on the ground "to prevent such provocations in future."

He said this would contribute to implementation of the Minsk peace agreements.

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12:15 a.m.

The United Nations' political chief is calling on the international community to help revitalize peace negotiations between Ukraine's government and Russian-backed separatists to prevent the current crisis from becoming "a catastrophe."

Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that since Jan. 7, and especially in the last few days, there has been "a dangerous intensification of the conflict" between government and rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.

He said European monitors on Wednesday reported over 10,000 explosions in the eastern Donetsk region over 24 hours, the highest number ever recorded.

Feltman said the monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also registered frequent use of heavy weapons banned by the Minsk peace agreements.

He noted damage to houses and schools in populated areas of Avdiivka, which is a government-held town just north of Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city. He said the damage raises "serious concerns about possible violations of international humanitarian law by all sides."

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11:40 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley is condemning Russia's "aggressive actions" in eastern Ukraine and warning Moscow that U.S. sanctions imposed after its annexation of Crimea will remain until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.

The new American envoy said it was "unfortunate" that she had to condemn Russia in her first appearance at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday saying "we do want to better our relations with Russia."

But Haley said "the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions."

She said the sudden increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent days has trapped thousands of civilians and destroyed vital infrastructure, "and the crisis is spreading, endangering many more."

Haley called for an immediate end to fighting and "full and immediate implementation" of the Minsk peace agreements.

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12:55 a.m.

European Union President Donald Tusk wants Moscow to lean on separatists in eastern Ukraine to make sure the flare-up in fighting ends and that a cease-fire is restored.

Tusk said in a statement early Thursday that "we are reminded again of the continued challenge formed by Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine," where at least 10 people have been killed since Monday and dozens wounded including civilians on both sides of the front line.

Tusk said that "the fighting must stop immediately. The cease-fire must be honored. Russia should use its influence to disengage the Russian-backed separatists."

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9:40 a.m.

Two Ukrainian troops have been killed in the country's industrial east as both government forces and rebels reported shelling on their positions overnight, Ukraine's government said early Thursday.

Ten other troops were wounded as fighting in Ukraine's industrial heartland entered its fifth day, the Ukrainian government's press office for the military operation in the east said.

In rebel stronghold Donetsk, self-proclaimed authorities said two civilians were injured Wednesday evening when projectiles hit their houses in Donetsk's north.

Associated Press reporters on both sides of the conflict, which has been raging since 2014, heard salvos of Grad multiple grenade launchers during the night. Both Russia-backed separatist rebels and the Ukrainian government in 2015 committed to cease fire and withdraw heavy weaponry including Grads.