bne IntelliNews -
Ukrainian government forces claim to have repulsed an attack by Russian-backed rebels on the settlement of Maryinka, a Kyiv-held suburb on the western outskirts of the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Maryinka is Kyiv's closest position to Donetsk, following the rebel capture of Donetsk airport in January.
According to Kyiv's counter-insurgency headquarters, the insurgents began a major assault on the town of Maryinka in the early hours of June 3, targeting positions held by Ukraine government troops.
"The situation began to worsen this night, the enemy started to shell our positions using multiple rocket launchers. (…) As a result of these shells Maryinka remains on fire," Interfax quoted the headquarters press spokesman Oleksandr Poroniuk as saying.
According to Ukraine's general staff, rebel forces used tanks and howitzers against Ukrainian positions. "The enemy used over ten tanks and up to 1,000 troops against Ukrainian troops in direction of Maryinka," the general staff posted on Facebook.
Rebels also grouped forces near Krasnohorivka, which flanks Maryinka to the north, giving the possibility of encircling the small town.
"The situation is under control, we have sufficient forces and means to provide appropriate resistance," Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said, as quoted by Interfax.
Ukrainian forces claimed to have inflicted losses on the rebels. Yuriy Biriukov, an adviser to President Petro Poroshenko, blogged that three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and over 30 injured in the course of the fighting, which he said had largely abated by 6pm local time. He also wrote that three civilians had died. Andrey Lysenko, a military spokesman, told the Kyiv Post that there had been no government casualties.
The internet page of former rebel leader Igor Girkin claimed losses among government fighters, but also acknowledged the deaths of at least 19 rebels.
Ukraine's military said that in order to repel the assault they were forced to move artillery to the front that had been withdrawn under the terms of peace agreements agreed between France, Ukraine, Russia and Germany in Minsk on February.
The ceasefire has held shakily for the past three months, but with continuous exchanges of fire in certain areas and with both sides taking casualties and accusing the other of violating the accords.
"Yesterday, Russia broke up the meeting of the trilateral contact group [for conflict regulation], and today Russia ordered its terrorists to launch a military operation [against Ukraine]," Interfax quoted Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk as saying.
"Moscow is very closely following and feeling extreme concern in relation to the provocative actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which as far as we can judge are largely provoking the situation," Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told journalists, adding that the Kremlin expects "the unconditional fulfillment of the Minsk agreements".
But according to The Interpreter online magazine, this is part of a tactic by the rebels that could lead to a more serious escalation and encirclement of government forces. "But across all of the front lines - near Mariupol, Donetsk, Gorlovka, and Schastye - we see a similar pattern emerge. The Russian-backed fighters are advancing in what could be described as 'fingers', narrow points of focus which are fairly evenly spaced. The pattern is that regular, but not constant, fighting is reported at alternating fingers on different days. This has several effects - it tests Ukraine's lines and keeps them guessing where the next attack will come. As a result, the Russian-backed forces have been able to advance in narrow 'spiky' channels, and each advance carries with it a new threat - encirclement. As two or more neighboring fingers advance deeper into Ukrainian territory, the Ukrainian military is in danger of being trapped in a pincer between two fronts, a strategy that has proven to be highly effective in the conflict, most notably at Ilovaisk and Debaltsevo."
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