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Merkel demands explanation from Putin after reports of new Russian incursions in Ukraine

And the Americans accused Russia of orchestrating a campaign inside Ukraine.

Image: Chris Jackson

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA Merkel phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin last night to demand clarification after reports of new attacks by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told Associated Press that “She emphasised Russia’s major responsibility for de-escalation and watching over its own frontiers.”

Pushing west in a new offensive along Ukraine’s strategic coastline, heavily armed Russian-backed separatist forces captured new territory yesterday far from their previous battles with government troops.

The bold offensive along a new southeastern front raised the prospect that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea, which also would give them control over the entire Azov Sea.

After a third day of heavy shelling that sent many residents fleeing, rebel fighters with dozens of tanks and armored vehicles entered Novoazovsk, a resort town of 40,000 on the Azov Sea, the mayor told The Associated Press.

This map, from Foreign Policy Watcher, sheds some light on the latest state of affairs in Eastern Ukraine and the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR).

The separatist attack appears to have caught government forces off guard, and they were scrambling Wednesday to build up defenses. The offensive also adds to growing evidence that the rebels receive Russian support.

Oleg Sidorkin, the mayor of Novoazovsk, told the AP by telephone that the rebel forces had rolled into town from positions near Ukraine’s southernmost border with Russia.

Ukraine and Western governments have long accused Russia of playing a direct role in the conflict, supplying troops and weaponry to the rebels. Russia consistently denies the claims, but its stance is increasingly dismissed abroad.

“Information, which in recent hours has gained another hard-facts confirmation, is that regular Russian units are operating in eastern Ukraine,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Wednesday.

Ukraine Smoke rises after shelling in the town of Novoazovsk, eastern Ukraine Source: AP

“This information, coming from NATO and confirmed by our intelligence, is in fact unequivocal.”

The U.S. government accused Russia on Wednesday of orchestrating a new military campaign in Ukraine that is helping rebel forces expand their fight and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles.

“These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

She also voiced concern about overnight deliveries of materiel in southeast Ukraine near Novoazovsk and said Russia was being dishonest about its actions, even to its own people.

Read: The west says Russian troops are in Ukraine>

No breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine talks (but everyone says they want peace)>

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Dan MacGuill

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