DONETSK, Ukraine- Armoured convoys headed to bolster rebel positions in east Ukraine Sunday as shelling rocked separatist stronghold Donetsk, prompting US-led concerns of a return to full-scale fighting.
The White House expressed grave concern at reports of Russian military reinforcements in eastern Ukraine, warning that any separatist efforts to seize more territory would be a “blatant violation” of a ceasefire agreement.
Ukraine and the West blame Russian-backed separatist fighters using surface-to-air missiles for the catastrophe, while Moscow has pointed the finger at Kiev’s forces, in an incident that galvanised international shock over the chaos.
“We are very concerned by intensified fighting in eastern Ukraine, as well as numerous reports… that Russian backed and supplied separatists are moving large convoys of heavy weapons and tanks to the front lines of the conflict,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement.
Reflecting the growing unease, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said reports of military reinforcements in Ukraine’s separatist areas were a “very worrying development” and called on Russia to prevent further movement of “troops, weapons and equipment”.
She also called on all sides to show “restraint” and said Russia should work to find a peaceful solution while respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.
On Monday a special commemoration will be held in the Netherlands for the victims of one of the worst tragedies of the conflict; the downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in July which killed all 298 people aboard, including 193 Dutch citizens.
The early hours of Sunday morning in Donetsk saw some of the fiercest combat since the September 5 signing of a frequently-violated ceasefire that halted all-out confrontations across most of the conflict zone, but failed to end constant bombardments at strategic hotspots.
An AFP crew saw a convoy of 20 military vehicles and 14 howitzer cannons without number plates or markings driving through the rebel town of Makiivka on Sunday, in the direction of the nearby frontline around Donetsk.