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US condemns Russia’s ‘aggressive actions’ in Ukraine

United Nations: US Ambassador Nikki Haley has condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in Ukraine and pledged strong US support to Kiev even as the new US administration seeks to improve ties with Russia.

“We do want to better our relations with Russia. However the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions,” she said in her first public remarks at the UN Security Council.

A surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine has presented the new administration of President Donald Trump with a first test of its Russia policy and Haley’s comments were closely watched for signs of any shift.

The US ambassador opened her remarks stating that it was “unfortunate” that her first appearance at the council required her to “condemn the aggressive actions of Russia” in what she described as a “replay” of past US statements.

“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention,” she said yesterday.

“Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.”

Haley asserted that US sanctions imposed on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea would remain in place “until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”

The sharp escalation of fighting since Sunday in the town of Avdiivka has raised concerns of a humanitarian crisis, with some 20,000 people left without heat or water in freezing winter weather.

At least 23 people have been killed in mortar and rocket attacks.

“This escalation of violence must stop,” Haley said.

Ukraine and Russia used the council meeting to trade accusations over who was responsible for the flare-up of fighting.

Ukrainian Ambassador Vlodymyr Yelchenko accused Russia of blocking repair work to restore electricity to Avdiivka.

“This is another clear evidence of the Kremlin’s intention to create a humanitarian catastrophe in Avdiivka as it was done by the Russian army in Aleppo,” he charged, referring to the city seized by Syrian government forces with Russia’s military support.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin accused Kiev of igniting fighting to attract international attention and draw support from the new US administration.

“Kiev is trying to use the clashes that they themselves started as a pretext to pull out of the Minsk agreements,” said Churkin.

The Minsk agreements, backed by France and Germany, lay out a series of measures to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine — but their implementation has been faltering.

“Kiev intends in this way to keep on the international agenda the crisis that they themselves started and suck in newly elected heads of states,” Churkin said.

The conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people since 2014, more than 2,000 of whom are civilians.