Russia says 'alarmed' by situation in Donbas

Russian foreign minister urges both sides in Ukrainian conflict to use additional measures in Minsk deal to maintain cease-fire.

Russia says 'alarmed' by situation in Donbas

Moscow is "very alarmed" by a reported spike in Ukrainian artillery attacks against rebels in the eastern region of Donbas with weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreement, Russia's foreign minister said on Friday.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, Sergey Lavrov accused Ukraine's armed forces of violating a cease-fire with the pro-Russian rebels.

Asked if the strikes by the Ukrainian military would be seen by Russia as a cause for war, Lavrov said a special procedure was agreed by the contact group representatives in the Minsk deal to avoid such conflict.

Under the additional measures for maintaining the truce, Ukrainian authorities, along with the rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Donbas, pledged to report shelling to their commanders instead of striking back immediately, so the officers could decide on further steps, Lavrov said.

The minister claimed that while Donetsk and Luhansk had immediately issued the relevant orders, Kyiv delayed until forced to do so with the help of the Normandy Four mediators Germany and France.

However, the commander of the Ukrainian Special Operations Forces in Donbas declared that the commanders on the ground continued to reserve the right to strike back at their own discretion, Lavrov said.

The diplomat then said "a special role" for providing the adherence to the agreements on the cease-fire belongs to the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

According to Lavrov's assessment, the mission "was trying to be objective at the first stage of its work" but then stopped to note which side starts attacks.

"Only under our insisting pressure, against the attempts of the Ukrainians to prevent it, the special monitoring mission about three years ago issued a report, which provided for who suffers from the violation of the cease-fire, and how.

"It turned out that destruction in the civil sector and victims among civilians are three times greater on the side of the people's militia (rebels) than on the side controlled by Ukraine's armed forces," he said.

In recent days, the OSCE mission in the region reported numerous shelling attacks and destruction, without showing who was responsible for most of the strikes, he continued.

"We will attain such information appearing in the OSCE mission reports with the indication of regular-basis initiators of cease-fire violations. So far, we see that the OSCE special monitoring mission is trying to soothe the facts, pointing at the guilt of Ukraine's armed forces," he said.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a conflict since hostilities in the eastern Donbas region broke out in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Western countries have accused Russia of amassing more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, prompting fears that it could be planning a military offensive against its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Denying that it is preparing to invade, Moscow has accused Western countries of undermining its security through NATO's expansion towards its borders.

The Kremlin says it has pulled back some of its troops following military exercises, but Western leaders argue they have yet to see any evidence of that.

Russia also demanded a rollback of troop deployments from some ex-Soviet states and guarantees that NATO would not accept some of those states into the military alliance.

NATO, however, said its "door remains open" and any decision on membership is for allies and aspirant countries to take, and nobody else.