Russia says concerned about Ukrainian firepower in southeast

by Reuters
Monday, 28 April 2014 13:16 GMT

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MOSCOW, April 28 (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday the number of Ukrainian military forces deployed in southeastern Ukraine should cause "deep concern" among members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring compliance with a peace deal.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said there were more than 11,000 Ukrainian troops, 160 tanks, 230 armoured vehicles and 150 artillery pieces deployed in the region as part of an operation to counter pro-Russian separatists.

"The numbers and composition of this group exceed the numbers of the local citizens' self-defence units by many times, and the presence of tanks, artillery ... military aircraft allow one to speak of the possibility of indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force, including the destruction of entire cities," the Russian statement said.

"These facts should cause deep concern among OSCE member-states, including in the context of implementation of the Geneva agreements," it said, suggesting the deployments ran counter to the agreement reached by Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union on April 17 that demanded all sides refrain from violence, intimidation and provocative actions.

By voicing concern about Ukrainian firepower, Russia appeared to be trying to counter criticism from Kiev and the West of its own military buildup near its border with Ukraine, where NATO says Russia has about 40,000 troops. It said the April 17 agreement, reached in Geneva, includes no restrictions on Russian deployments on its own territory.

Russia, whose annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region last month has caused its most tense confrontation with the West since the Cold war, says it has the right to send its armed forces into Ukraine if necessary to protect Russian-speakers who predominate in the east.

Pro-Russian rebels seized eight European OSCE monitors and have been holding them at their most heavily fortified redoubt in the Ukrainian town of Slaviansk. One was freed on Sunday.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alison Williams)

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