Ukraine 'on the brink of civil war' as military vehicles are seized by pro-Russian forces

Ukrainian troops have been sent into reclaim buildings seized in "anti-terror operation"

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The Independent Online

Ukrainian troops have been blocked and military vehicles have been seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern town of Kramatorsk, a day into the interim president's "anti-terrorist" operation.

Ukraine's defence ministry said six armoured personnel carriers had been taken by pro-Russian militants. Separatists flew the Russian flags on the vehicles just hours after President Vladimir Putin warned the country has been pushed “onto the verge of civil war”.

In the industrial city of Donetsk, at least 20 armed separatists occupied the city council building, a spokeswoman for the council said.

Earlier this morning, government troops drove seven armoured personnel carriers flying the Ukrainian flag into the centre of Kramatorsk after seizing back control of a nearby airfield from the rebels on Tuesday.

The airfield was reclaimed by Ukrainian troops using helicopter gunships after the acting president launched an "anti-terrorist" operation, prompting Putin to phone the German chancellor Angela Merkel late yesterday evening and warn of the risk of "civil war".

During the conversation between Putin and Merkel, "the Russian president remarked that the sharp escalation of the conflict has placed the country, in effect, on the verge of civil war," a Kremlin statement said.

Arseny Yatseniuk , Ukraine's interim prime minister, today accused Russia of "exporting terrorism" to Ukraine by using covert forces to organise armed separatists who he said had attacked Ukrainian forces and occupied state buildings.

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"The Russian government must immediately call off its intelligence-diversionary groups, condemn the terrorists and demand that they free the buildings," Mr Yatseniuk told a government meeting.

"That is, if the Russian Federation is interested in stabilising the situation, which I have significant doubts about," he added.

Meanwhile, six armoured vehicles rolled into the nearby city of Slovyansk near the Russian border today carrying the Russian national flag.

Merkel's office said she and Putin had "different assessments of events" in Ukraine during their telephone conversation late Tuesday.

It said the conversation focused on preparations for a planned meeting of senior diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union in Geneva on Thursday.


Additional reporting by agencies