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Putin orders forces in the Urals on combat alert

MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered military forces in central Russia on combat alert as well as a drill of airborne troops, a day after Ukraine ordered a cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels.

NATO said earlier this week that Russia has resumed a military build-up on the border with Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have been fighting government forces for weeks in a conflict that has left about 300 people dead and displaced over 34,000.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered his forces to cease fire Friday and halt military operations for a week, the first step in a peace plan he hopes will end the fighting that has killed hundreds. The Kremlin dismissed the plan, saying it sounded like an ultimatum and lacked any firm offer to open talks with insurgents.

The combat alert in the central military district, which encompasses the Volga region and the Ural mountains but not western Russia, will last until next Saturday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, quoted by Russian state news agencies.

Some 65,000 troops will take part in military drills accompanying the combat alert, according to head of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, including several thousand troops of an airborne division which will be moved from a city 124 miles east of Moscow where they are stationed to the Ural mountains.

Russia’s combat alert was ordered on the first day of the cease-fire in Ukraine, which was nonetheless marked by more fighting along the border.

The Ukrainian Border Guard Service reported overnight attacks on two border posts in the Donetsk region, which left three troops injured, hours after the cease-fire was announced. One of the posts, Vyselky, was attacked with mortar and sniper fire for half an hour, the border guards said.

An attack on another border post, Izvaryne, immediately before the cease-fire left six men injured, the border guard service said.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry reported two attacks on the quarters of a missile unit in the village of Avdiyivka. Kiev said men armed with automatic rifles and grenade launchers attacked the base at 11 p.m. – one hour after the cease-fire was announced – prompting the army to respond. The rebels left in the morning, the defense ministry said.

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