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Ukrainian military closes in on pro-Russia rebels in Donetsk


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Government forces tightened the noose around the main stronghold of pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, as Moscow and the west stepped up their war of words.

The seizure of Krasnogorovka and Staromikhailovka, towns just outside Donetsk, brought the army to the edge of one of the last cities still in rebel hands following its advances in the past month. The other is Luhansk, near the border with Russia.

Shelling near the area where a Malaysian airliner was downed last month forced international experts to stop their search for victims at one part of the crash site, but a local ceasefire enabled them to work unhindered at the main part.

Working with sniffer dogs, they recovered more human remains and personal belongings for examination, officials said.

Diplomatic efforts to end the wider conflict, the worst standoff between Moscow and the west since the Cold War ended in 1991, show no sign of progress.

David Cameron said Nato must rethink its ties with Moscow and called for it to overhaul itself to be able to better defend member states from a potential Russian military threat.

"Six months into the Russia-Ukraine crisis we must agree on long-term measures to strengthen our ability to respond quickly to any threat, to reassure those allies who fear for their own country's security and to deter any Russian aggression," the British prime minister wrote in a letter to fellow alliance leaders and the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Barack Obama also vented his frustration with Russia after speaking to Vladimir Putin by telephone on Friday.

The US president told reporters Washington had done "everything that we can do" short of going to war, to persuade Putin of the need to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

"But sometimes people don't always act rationally, and they don't always act based on their medium or long-term interests," he said.

The US and the EU imposed new sanctions on Moscow this week, accusing Putin of failing to use his influence with the separatists to end the fighting in the mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Putin denies arming the rebels and accuses the west of pursuing a policy of containment against Moscow, using a cold war-era phrase to suggest Washington wants to reduce Russia's global influence.

In a new attack on western policy, Russia's foreign ministry accused the EU of double standards, saying it was punishing the Russian defence sector with the latest sanctions but "on the quiet" had ended restrictions on sales of military technology and equipment to Ukraine.

"We call again on our EU colleagues to follow sound logic and not conjecture and goading from Washington," the ministry said, questioning the EU's "dubious political goals".

The rebellion in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, two months after the country's president Viktor Yanukovich was ousted following a shift in policy away from the EU towards Moscow, and one month after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula.

The army has been making advances against the separatists since the current Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, stepped up the military campaign against them after his election in May, and fighting intensified after the Malaysian airliner was downed on 17 July.

The US says the separatists probably shot down the plane by mistake with a Russian-made missile. The rebels and Moscow deny the accusation and blame it on Kiev.

After being unable to reach the plane's wreckage for several days because of the fighting, international experts worked at the site for a second successive day, but the results of their efforts were not immediately announced.


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