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Ukrainian troops ride on the back of a truck near the site of fighting in the eastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on June 13, 2014. (SHAMIL ZHUMATOV/REUTERS)
Ukrainian troops ride on the back of a truck near the site of fighting in the eastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on June 13, 2014. (SHAMIL ZHUMATOV/REUTERS)

U.S. confirms Russia sent tanks, rocket launchers into Ukraine Add to ...

Russia has sent tanks, heavy weapons and rocket launchers to Ukraine in recent days in support of separatists in the east of the country, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

“We assess that separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.

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Harf told a briefing earlier that a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several MB-21 “or Grad” multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles had crossed from Russia into Ukraine in the past three days.

MARIUPOL: CITY RECLAIMED FROM SEPARATISTS

The Ukrainian flag fluttered over the regional headquarters of Mariupol on Friday after government forces reclaimed the port city from pro-Russian separatists in heavy fighting and said they had regained control of a long stretch of the border with Russia.

The advances are significant victories for the pro-European leadership in a military operation to crush the armed rebellion, which began in east Ukraine in April, and hold the former Soviet republic of 45 million together.

“At 10:34 a.m.the Ukrainian flag was raised over City Hall in Mariupol,” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, less than six hours after the attack began on the city of 500,000, Ukraine’s biggest Azov Sea port.

A ministry aide said the government forces stormed the rebels after they were surrounded and given 10 minutes to surrender. At least five separatists and two servicemen were killed in the battle before many of the rebels fled.

A group of around 100 Mariupol citizens, who had gathered in the town centre to show their opposition to the government’s actions, exchanged obscenities and crude gestures with Ukrainian soldiers, who were driving through town in a column of armored trucks. “The government brought everything here, including a cannon ... people were not allowed to come and witness how the government was shooting its own citizens,” 52-year-old Andrei Nikodimovich said.

Mariupol, which has changed hands several times in weeks of conflict, is strategically important because it lies on major roads from the southeastern border with Russia into the rest of Ukraine and steel is exported through the port.

KIEV: UKRAINE PROPOSES NEW TALKS ON GAS PRICES

Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan proposed on Friday holding new talks on a gas pricing dispute with Russia over the next few days, starting on Saturday in Kiev or another European city.

Prodan’s ministry said he had told European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who is brokering the talks, that Kiev was ready to continue negotiations on the basis of compromise proposals made by the European Commission.

Ukraine has said it ready to pay a price of $326 per 1,000 cubic metres for an interim period. Moscow has described this price proposal as “inadequate” and threatened to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if Kiev does not start paying off its gas debts by Monday.

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