Russian-Backed Rebels Launch Attacks in Ukraine, Two Ukrainian Soldiers Dead

U.S. to bolster NATO countries with aircraft, weapons, special operations forces

Russia-backed rebels sit on an armored transporter driving to the airport outside Donetsk, Ukraine / AP
June 22, 2015

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine continue to launch attacks in violation of a ceasefire reached in February, Reuters reports.

The Ukrainian military said on Monday that two of its soldiers were killed and three wounded amid fresh concerns about a new offensive by the Russian-backed separatists:

Both sides accuse the other of regularly violating a ceasefire deal signed in Minsk in February, but a surge in violence in the past few weeks has caused international monitors to warn of a threat of a wider escalation.

"Around Donetsk, particularly near the airport, there is military action practically round-the-clock…The enemy has pulled banned weapons into Donetsk—tanks and high-caliber guns—and is actively using them," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

"The growing number of attacks shows that rebels have focused on this area in order to advance," he said at a briefing in which he gave casualty figures in the 24 hours up to 6 a.m.

The situation near the strategic Kiev-controlled port city of Mariupol in south-east Ukraine was also "extremely tense" on Sunday with rebels using artillery and sniper fire to attack government positions, Lysenko said.

If Mariupol falls to the rebels, Russia would essentially have a land bridge to Crimea—the Ukrainian peninsula that the Kremlin forcibly seized and annexed last March.

Ash Carter, the U.S. secretary of defense, also said on Monday that America is "deeply committed" to defending Europe from Russia’s destabilizing actions. The United States will provide aircraft, weapons, and commando forces to NATO countries in Eastern Europe to help bolster their defenses, the Associated Press reported:

Under the plan, the U.S. will contribute intelligence and surveillance capabilities, special operations forces, logistics, transport aircraft, and a range of weapons support that could include bombers, fighters and ship-based missiles. It would not provide a large ground force.