Ukraine crisis: President calls snap elections amid invasion fears after claims Russian tanks have crossed border

Kiev’s parliament dissolved after claims Russian tanks have crossed border fears of invasion force seizing link to Crimea

Jim Heintz
Tuesday 26 August 2014 12:16 BST
Ukrainian forces clashed with an armoured column of Russian tanks, as Moscow announced plans for a new aid convoy to assist pro-Russian rebels
Ukrainian forces clashed with an armoured column of Russian tanks, as Moscow announced plans for a new aid convoy to assist pro-Russian rebels (EPA)

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Louise Thomas

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Ukraine’s President dissolved parliament yesterday and called for early elections in October as his country continues to battle a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern regions.

President Petro Poroshenko announced on his website that he has dissolved parliament and called for snap elections on 26 October.

The announcement came a day ahead of a summit that includes both Mr Poroshenko and the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier the Ukraine military said a column of Russian tanks and armoured vehicles has crossed into south-eastern Ukraine, away from where most of the intense fighting has been taking place.

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters that the column of 10 tanks, two armoured vehicles and two trucks crossed the border near Shcherbak and that the nearby city of Novoazovsk was shelled during the night from Russia. He said they were Russian military vehicles bearing the flags of the separatist Donetsk rebels.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that he had no information about the column.

The reported incursion and shelling could indicate an attempt to move on Mariupol, a major port on the Azov Sea, an arm of the Black Sea. Mariupol lies on the main road between Russia and Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed in March. Capturing Mariupol could be the first step in building a slice of territory that links Russia with Crimea.

Although Mariupol is in Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region, most of the fighting between separatist rebels and Ukrainian troops has been well to the north, including around the city of Donetsk, the rebels’ largest stronghold. An offensive in the south could draw Ukrainian forces away from the fight for Donetsk.

Col Lysenko said Mariupol has enough defenders “to repel any attack”.

Ukraine and the West say that Russia is supporting and supplying the rebels and that, since mid-August, Russia has fired into Ukraine from across the border and from within Ukrainian territory. Moscow denies those allegations. Fighting continued elsewhere in the east, notably around the town of Olenevka, 15 miles south of Donetsk. Col Lysenko said that about 250 separatists had been killed in that fighting, but did not specify in what time period. On Sunday, the rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said two-thirds of Olenevka had been wrested away from Ukrainian control.

Ukrainian forces had made significant inroads against the separatists in recent weeks.

Russia announced plans, meanwhile, to send a second aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting have left many residential buildings in ruins.

Russia’s unilateral dispatch of more than 200 trucks into Ukraine on Friday was denounced by the Ukrainian government as an invasion and condemned by the US, the European Union and Nato. Even though the tractor-trailers returned to Russia without incident on Saturday, the announcement of another convoy was likely to raise new suspicions.

Mr Lavrov said yesterday that Russia had notified the Ukrainian government that it was preparing to send a second convoy along the same route in the coming days, but Col Lysenko said he had no information on that plan.

Mr Lavrov also said the food, water and other goods delivered to the rebel city of Luhansk was being distributed yesterday and that Red Cross workers were at talks on how best to distribute it. There was no immediate confirmation on that from the Red Cross.

In sending in the first convoy, Russia said it had lost patience with what it called Ukraine’s stalling tactics. It claimed that soon “there will no longer be anyone left to help” in Luhansk, where weeks of heavy shelling have cut off power, water and the phone service and made food scarce.


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