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Ukraine: Russia Forces in Major Cities 09/02 06:17

   A Ukrainian official said Tuesday that Russian forces have been spotted in 
both of the major rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine.

   KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- A Ukrainian official said Tuesday that Russian forces 
have been spotted in both of the major rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine.

   The claim by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national 
security council, came as the country's defense minister said Ukraine's armed 
forces are expanding their strategy from just fighting separatist rebels to 
facing the Russian army in a war that could cost "tens of thousands" of lives.

   Lysenko told reporters that Russian troops had been seen in the cities of 
Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as other locations throughout the east, but he did 
not give details and the claim could not be confirmed independently. Lysenko 
also said 15 servicemen had been killed over the previous day.

   In Moscow, a Kremlin aide sharply criticized EU Commission President Jose 
Manuel Barroso for breaching confidentiality when he quoted President Vladimir 
Putin as saying Moscow could take over Kiev in two weeks, if it wished.

   Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader's foreign policy adviser, told reporters 
that Putin's statement was "taken out of context and carried a completely 
different meaning."

   Ushakov lashed out at Barroso, saying it was a breach of diplomatic 
practices and "unworthy of a serious politician" to speak publicly about a 
private conversation.

   Several European publications earlier this week cited diplomats quoting 
Barroso as saying that Putin had said in a private conversation that Russian 
forces could take over Ukraine's capital in two weeks' time, if they wished.

   Putin's comment reportedly came in response to Barroso pointing out 
Ukrainian and Western claims that Russia had sharply escalated the conflict in 
eastern Ukraine by sending regular army units into Ukraine. NATO has estimated 
that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine, helping turn the 
tide in favor of pro-Russian insurgents.

   Ushakov on Tuesday reaffirmed Moscow's denial that it has sent any soldiers 
in, even though a rebel leader said last week that Russian servicemen on 
official leave were among some 4,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine.

   Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page Monday 
that the counter-insurgency operation is over and the nation's military is now 
facing the Russian army in a war that could cost "tens of thousands" of lives.

   "This is our Great Patriotic War," he wrote, using the local terminology for 
World War II.

   Russia's Foreign Ministry dismissed Heletey's remarks as "shocking" and 
accused him of making the statement in a bid to shift blame and keep his seat 
amid a series of defeats suffered by the Ukrainian military.

   Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since 
mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead. In recent 
weeks, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching an 
offensive along the coast of the Sea of Azov.

   Efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the hostilities, which 
followed the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president and Russia's annexation 
of Crimea, have failed.

   Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, pro-Russian rebels and the Organization 
for Security and Cooperation in Europe made another attempt to reach an accord 
Monday in Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Rebels presented a negotiating 
platform that dropped their previous demand for full independence and expressed 
readiness to negotiate a settlement that would respect Ukraine's territorial 
integrity in exchange for a broad autonomy for eastern provinces.

   The talks lasted several hours and were adjourned until Friday, when the 
parties are expected to discuss specifics of a possible cease-fire and a 
prisoners' exchange.

   Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday urged the United States 
to use its influence in Ukraine to encourage efforts to reach a political 
settlement. "It's necessary to restrain the party of war in Kiev, and only the 
United States can do it," he said at a briefing.


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