OSCE Says Lost Contact with Observers in Ukraine's Donetsk as Putin Calls for 'Immediate End' to Violence

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A team of international monitors with the OSCE was detained at a checkpoint in restive eastern Ukraine on a day of deadly fighting between government forces and pro-Russian gunmen, officials said Tuesday.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it had lost contact with the four-member team as they were on patrol in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk on Monday.

Their disappearance comes more than a month after another OSCE team of military observers was captured by pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine and held in the flashpoint city of Slavyansk for over a week.

"The team was on a routine patrol east of Donetsk when contact was lost (on Monday evening)," the Vienna-based OSCE said in a statement about the latest incident.

"We have been unable to re-establish communication until now," it said, adding that it was in contact with the government as well as regional authorities to try to locate the team.

It said the four were international members of its Special Monitoring Mission -- a Dane, an Estonian, a Swiss and a Turk.

Fierce fighting erupted in Donetsk on Monday when Ukrainian government forces launched air strikes against pro-Russian separatist gunmen who seized the airport in the eastern industrial city.

The local mayor said Tuesday that 40 people had been killed in the gunbattles, including two civilians and the rest combatants.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russia called for an "immediate end" to violence in eastern Ukraine.

Maintaining Moscow's tough tone after the weekend election of Ukraine's new president Petro Poroshenko, President Vladimir Putin again accused Kiev of carrying out "punitive" operations in eastern regions.

In a call with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Putin "underlined the need for an immediate end to the military's punitive operation in southeastern regions and the establishment of peaceful dialogue between Kiev and regional representatives," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called for an end to the fighting, accusing Kiev of using the military against civilians.

"The number one task for the Kiev authorities and the test of their durability... is bringing an immediate end to the use of the army against the public and an end to any violence by all sides," Lavrov said in Moscow at a news conference with Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

Lavrov said there were no immediate plans for Ukraine's new leader to travel to Moscow for talks on the long-running crisis.

"The question of a visit to Russia by Poroshenko is not being considered and is not being discussed through diplomatic or any other channels," Lavrov said.

But he repeated promises that Moscow was ready to work with Poroshenko.

"We hope that he will act in the interests of all the Ukrainian people. If that is the case he will find us a serious and reliable partner," Lavrov said. 

"We have an interest in resolving the crisis in Ukraine and working with all of those who want the same thing."

Lavrov mocked those calling for new sanctions on Russia, saying: "It's funny, people are busy trying to find some reason to put pressure on us, it's laughable."

He suggested the United States and European Union, who together have imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian officials, were looking for an excuse to punish Moscow even before the Ukraine crisis.

"As for the West's sanctions against Russia, if it had not been Ukraine, it would have been something else," he said.

He said that prior to the crisis the West already "had many problems with Russia, on the Syrian question, on Iran's nuclear program, in connection with (fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker Edward) Snowden. And they were not at all happy that we were organizing the Olympics."

Meanwhile, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday that Russia has withdrawn "several thousand" military personnel from the Ukrainian border in the past few days but tens of thousands of soldiers remain deployed in the region, .

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian troops "continue their repositioning and to move off the border."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who ordered the deployment of close to 40,000 troops on the Russia-Ukraine border in March, according to NATO, said on May 19 the soldiers had been recalled to their garrisons.

Estimating the Russian drawdown in the "thousands," the U.S. official added that "tens of thousands remained massed on the border.

"There are still enough forces there to create all sorts of destabilization," the official said.

Ukraine's army said Tuesday it had regained control of the airport serving Donetsk in eastern Ukraine after fierce fighting with pro-Russian militants.

Putin, accused of supporting the separatists, demanded that Ukrainian authorities immediately halt operations against the militants.

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