A Ukrainian soldier has been killed in clashes with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s war-torn east, its military said Thursday, raising fears over a fresh outbreak of heavy fighting.
Clashes have broken out in the east over the past month, testing a ceasefire brokered last year that had raised hopes for an end to the conflict that erupted in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.
Ukraine’s defense ministry reported that small arms fire killed the soldier near the village of Starognativka south of Donetsk, the separatists’ de facto capital.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, claims Moscow denies.
The halt to fighting agreed last July raised hopes for a resolution to the bitter trench war.
But nine Ukrainian servicemen have now been killed since mid-February as Kiev accuses Moscow and separatists of using banned military hardware.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy this week called for a summit with European countries and floated a direct meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to temper fresh fighting.
But on Thursday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had not received a proposal for a meeting between the two presidents and was not aware of a new plan for peace talks.
Russia, Germany and France comprise the Normandy format, a talking shop intended to help resolve the conflict, that last met in 2019 shortly after Zelenskiy was elected.
The fighting has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014, according to the United Nations, but the number of deaths has fallen in recent years.
Ukraine Launches Military Drills with NATO
Ukraine on Monday launched joint military exercises with the United States and other NATO countries as tensions with Russia remain high over the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the country’s east.
The annual Rapid Trident military exercises, taking place in western Ukraine until Oct. 1, involve some 6,000 soldiers from 15 countries, Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The head of the exercises, Brigadier General Vladyslav Klochkov, said the drills were “an important step towards Ukraine’s European integration.”
“The Ukrainian military, which has been holding back Russian aggression for eight years, will share its unique combat experience with its international colleagues,” he added.
The drills start a week after Russia and Belarus held military exercises involving 200,000 personnel, one of their biggest drills in recent years.
More than 13,000 people have been killed since the rebel insurgency broke out in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions in April 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
At least 54 Ukrainian troops have been killed since the start of the year, compared with a total of 50 the previous year. The separatists say they have lost more than 30 fighters since the start of the year.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, which Moscow denies.
In April, Russia amassed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, raising fears of a major escalation in the protracted conflict. Moscow later announced a pullback.