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Pro-Russian gunmen make inroads in eastern Ukraine

Updated: 
April 17, 2014 - 12:05am

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The well-armed, Moscow-backed insurgency sowing chaos in eastern Ukraine scored a new victory Wednesday, seizing armored vehicles and weapons from underequipped government forces, then rolling through two cities to a hero’s welcome.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops repelled an attack on a national guard base in the Black Sea port of Mariupol, leaving three pro-Russian militants dead and 13 wounded, Ukraine’s interior minister said Thursday.

A crowd of around 300 men armed with Molotov cocktails attacked the base, in the south-east part of the country late Wednesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.

He said they were repelled by the national guard and police forces and 63 people had been arrested as a result of the operation. Most of the attackers were disarmed, he added.

Responding to what it sees as Russia’s aggression, NATO announced it was increasing its military presence along its eastern border, closest to Russia and Ukraine. And the Obama administration moved to ratchet up its response, preparing new sanctions on Russia and boosted assistance for the struggling Ukrainian military.

Wednesday’s setbacks came just 24 hours after a much-touted Ukrainian army operation to retake control of Solvyansk and other cities in the restive east, and appeared to reflect growing indecisiveness by the new Kiev leadership, which has vowed for days to re-establish its authority there.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed along the border with Ukraine, there are fears the Kremlin might use the instability in the predominantly Russian-speaking region as a pretext for seizing more territory beyond its annexation of Crimea last month.