DONETSK, Ukraine – Ukrainian armed forces mounted a major onslaught against pro-Russian separatist fighters Sunday in an attempt to gain control over the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed earlier this month.
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, released satellite images that it says back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
A four-page document released by the State Department seems to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, sourced from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 – after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Moscow has angrily denied allegations of Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s foreign ministry over the weekend accused the U.S. of conducting “an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies.”
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, said a State Department official.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
Reports of the intensifying unrest in eastern Ukraine prompted a postponement of a trip to the site by a team of Dutch and Australian police officers who had planned to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies.
Ukraine’s National Security Council said Sunday that government troops have encircled Horlivka, a key rebel stronghold, and that there had been fighting in other cities in the east. Elsewhere, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday that a column of Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, trucks and tanks had entered the town of Shakhtarsk, 10 miles west of the site of the Boeing 777 crash.
In addition to producing evidence that rockets have been fired into Ukraine from Russia, the U.S. has said it has seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the border.
Separately, the New York Times reported Sunday that U.S. officials were working on a plan to give Ukraine specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. That would allow the Ukraine government to target those sites.