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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– The first contingent of American troops has landed in Poland for military exercises amid regional security concerns over nearby Ukraine, where officials said at least five pro-Russian “insurgents” were killed in new clashes with government forces.
The U.S. troops arrived after Moscow accused the U.S. of involvement in the resumption of what Kyiv called “anti-terror operation” against pro-Russian forces in the ease.
Officials said an initial 150 American soldiers have arrived in Poland which borders turbulent Ukraine, followed by a further 450 within days.
More forces will also be stationed in the Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as the NATO military alliance tries to boost its presence in Eastern European member states, who have expressed concerns over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
Separately, Britain, Netherlands and Denmark scrambled fighter jets after Russian military aircraft were spotted approaching their airspace.
The action has added to international concerns that Russia will seek to invade Eastern Ukraine after it already annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Pro-Russian separatists have occupied government buildings in several cities of the region, but Ukraine’s interim government said it had re-launched military actions against them.
On Thursday, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said five pro-Russian “insurgents” were killed amid clashes for control over the eastern city of Sloviansk, a separatists’ stronghold.
Three illegal checkpoints were reportedly dismantled by Ukrainian special forces, though some media said pro-Russian forces regained control of one of them. Russian separatists’ said civilians have been told to evacuate the city.
“The active stage of the anti-terror operation is continuing,” explained Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema. “Law enforcement bodies are working on the destruction of gangster groups in Kramatorsk, Sloviansk and other cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he told reporters.
The action prompted an angry reaction from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused the U.S. of controlling events in Ukraine. “Well, it’s quite telling that they chose a moment of [the] vice-president of the United States visit to announce the resumption of this operation because the launching of this operation happened immediately after the John Brennan’s visit to Kyiv,” he said in an interview.
“So I don’t have any reasons not to believe that the Americans are running the show in a
very close way.”
And in a worrying sign to the west, Lavrov did not rule our direct Russian military action in eastern Ukraine. “If we are attacked, we would certainly respond,” the minister warned.
“If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law. Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.
Russia has some 40.000 troops near Ukraine’s borders.