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OSCE Says Risk Of Escalation In Eastern Ukraine 'Rising'

The OSCE has monitors on the ground in Ukraine.
The OSCE has monitors on the ground in Ukraine.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) says the risk of an escalation in violence in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine is "rising."

Michael Bociurkiw of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine told a press conference in Kyiv on November 11 that more than two months after a cease-fire agreement between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists, "the firing has not ceased."

A November 11 report from the OSCE said members of its special monitoring mission to Ukraine observed an unmarked military convoy on the eastern outskirts of the separatist-held city of Donetsk earlier in the day.

The OSCE monitors reported seeing 43 vehicles moving toward the city center and "five of the trucks were each towing 120mm howitzer artillery pieces. Another five were each towing partly covered multi-launch rocket systems."

It was the latest in a series of reports of unmarked military vehicles and heavy weapons being moved into separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine.

There are concerns that pro-Russian rebels could be gearing up for a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine despite the September 5 agreement.

Meanwhile, NATO's top commander also said that about eight Russian battalion task groups have been sighted in the area along the Ukrainian border.

U.S. General Philip Breedlove, speaking to journalists at a NATO base near Naples, Italy, also said Russia has been reinforcing its bases in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March, but it was unclear if that included deployment of nuclear weapons.

Breedlove said forces "capable of being nuclear" have been deployed in Crimea but there was so far no indication nuclear weapons have been brought to the peninsula.

Travel Bans

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on November 5 reiterated that EU member states were considering extending travel bans to newly elected separatist officials in eastern Ukraine. She reiterated that the poll organized by separatists on November 2 were "illegal."

Merkel said the EU might impose sanctions on new individuals in Russia, or who are in some way connected to support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

However, Merkel, speaking in Berlin, said the European Union was not planning new sanctions against Russia.

EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet on November 17 to discuss Ukraine and options for possible fresh sanctions on Russia.

Ukraine was also one of the topics when U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin held brief discussions on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing.

No details of the two presidents' discussions were made public.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are at their lowest since the Cold War, with Russia under Western sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in March and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On November 10, the United States accused Russia of providing "tanks and other heavy equipment" to separatists and urged Moscow to "stop fueling the fire."

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters
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