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NATO sees ‘high probability’ of Russian invasion as Ukraine troops close on Donetsk


Fighting in recent weeks has focused on the route linking the cities, near where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in July, killing all 298 people on board. Washington says the plane was almost certainly shot down accidentally by rebels using an advanced Russian missile. Moscow denies this.

Fighting near the site forced the Netherlands to put off a mission to recover human remains and investigate the crash.

The rebels in eastern Ukraine have been led mostly by Russian citizens and field heavy weaponry Kiev and its allies say can only have come from Russia. Moscow denies aiding them.


The past week saw increasingly urgent warnings from Kiev and Western countries that Putin appeared to planning an invasion.

Western countries said Putin – who has whipped up the passions of Russians with a relentless nationalist campaign in state-controlled media since annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March – could invade to head off a humiliating rebel defeat.

But there have been signs in recent days that Moscow may be searching for another way to get out of the conflict, without being drawn into a ground invasion.

When the Russian citizen leading the rebellion in Donetsk abruptly stepped down in favour of local man Zakharchenko last week, many read that as a sign of potential de-escalation: Kiev has said it could contemplate negotiations with locals but would never talk to foreigners it calls international terrorists.

Donetsk is facing an increasing shortage of food, water and fuel. Few people are on the streets, apart from groups of armed separatist fighters. There is relatively little traffic, with petrol in short supply. Those who have not left for the countryside are staying indoors. Banks are closed and pensions and social allowances are not being paid.

Shelling on Monday from the direction of the international airport and the suburb of Yasynuvata to the north knocked out a string of power stations, the municipal authority said.

Lysenko, speaking to journalists, denied government forces had targeted the high-security prison for especially dangerous prisoners on the city’s western outskirts, where the city authorities said one inmate was killed by shelling and more than 100 dangerous criminals escaped in an ensuing riot.

Though the Kiev government says it is tightening a cordon around the separatists in Donetsk, swathes of the east are still under rebel control including Luhansk and the towns of Horlivka to the north of Donetsk and Makiyivka to its east. The key rail and road hub of Krasny Luch between Donetsk and Luhansk is still outside government control, military sources in Kiev said.

Lysenko painted a picture of disarray in the rebels’ ranks. “A mood of panic is gripping the Russian mercenaries. Some are deserting, others are disoriented, disillusioned and don’t have a uniform strategy for conducting further combat,” he said.

Western countries have imposed sanctions on Moscow, which, though initially mild, were tightened substantially after the downing of the Malaysian airliner.

Moscow replied last week with a ban on imports of all meat, poultry, dairy, fruit and vegetables from the United States, European Union, Canada, Australia and non-EU member Norway.[eap_ad_3]

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