DONETSK: Pro-Russian rebels on Sunday shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet ahead of urgent talks between Kiev and Moscow’s top diplomats to defuse tensions over fighting in the east of the ex-Soviet nation.
The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France headed for a meeting in Berlin, after Western leaders scrambled to dampen a firestorm over claims that Ukrainian forces had destroyed Russian military vehicles.
Ukraine’s military told Agence France-Prese its MiG-29 warplane was blown out of the sky as it carried out “an assignment to eliminate a large group of terrorists” in the strife-torn Lugansk region. The pilot managed to parachute to safety, it said.
Authorities in the main rebel city of Donetsk said shelling killed 10 civilians in 24 hours as government forces pressed on with an offensive to oust separatists after four months of fighting that has left over 2,100 people dead and pushed the region to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
Germany, meanwhile, demanded that Moscow clarify boasts by a rebel leader in the besieged city that he had recently received hundreds of fighters trained in Russia to bolster the flagging rebellion.
Fresh weekend clashes will serve only to fray nerves further ahead of Sunday’s meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, and their French and German counterparts.
“Flying to Berlin. The talks will not be easy. It is important to stop the flow of weapons and mercenaries from Russia,” Klimkin wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
French President Francois Hollande called for Ukraine to show “restraint and good judgement” in its military operations after Kiev’s boasts that it had destroyed part of a small military convoy from Russia ramped up the stakes.
He also suggested the talks could pave the way for a face-to-face encounter between the Russian and Ukrainian heads of state.
Russia had dismissed the incursion claims as “fantasies,” but resisted the urge to strike back, as it again denied the persistent allegations from the West that it is arming the rebels.
Meanwhile, the fate of a mammoth Russian aid convoy parked up near Ukraine’s border since Thursday remained uncertain despite both sides appearing to edge closer to a deal to let it across the volatile border.
The Red Cross told Agence France-Presse its officials had arrived at an area where some 300 Russian trucks are waiting but that official inspections of the cargo were yet to begin.