MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign ministry said Sunday that a Ukrainian shell hit a Russian border town, killing one person and seriously injuring two others. Ukraine denied firing a shell into Russian territory.
President Vladimir Putin expressed “grave concern” over the incident, Russian news agencies quoted his spokesman as saying. A statement from Russia’s foreign ministry labeled the event a “provocation,” and warned of the possibility of “irreversible consequences, the responsibility for which lies on the Ukrainian side.”
Russia said the shell hit the courtyard of a residential building in the Russian town of Donetsk – near the Ukrainian city of the same name that has become a rebel stronghold – early on Sunday. Ukraine’s restless east has been mired in a pro-Russian separatist insurgency against the Kiev government.
Ukrainian officials denied that any Ukrainian shells had fallen on Russian territory. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, was quoted by Interfax Ukraine as saying that Ukrainian forces “do not fire on the territory of a neighboring country. They do not fire on residential areas.” He placed blame for the attack on the rebels themselves.
Russia has made repeated claims that settlements along its porous border with Ukraine – which the West and Kiev say is a key supply route for the rebels – have been hit by Ukrainian fire, but no deaths have been previously reported.
The claims came as Putin, whose nation will host the 2018 World Cup, was attending Sunday’s final in Rio de Janeiro to take part in a handover ceremony with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Brazilian officials said Saturday that both Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, would attend the match. But Poroshenko announced Sunday that he wouldn’t be going. Talks between Russia and Ukraine over a cease-fire between the rebels and Kiev’s troops have stalled in recent weeks, as Ukrainian troops have succeeded in pushing insurgents out of key towns in the east.
Putin met Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also in Rio for the World Cup final, to discuss eastern Ukraine. Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement that the two leaders “agreed that as soon as possible direct talks should take place between the Ukrainian government and separatists in form of a video conference.” Selecting a location for talks has been a key sticking point for both sides.