KIEV. November 12 -- Ukraine's defense minister has said the country is preparing for fresh combat operations in the face of alleged "increased activity" by Russia and pro-Russian rebels in the east.
Stepan Poltorak's comments came amid fears that eastern Ukraine could descend into all-out violence despite a shaky ceasefire deal signed in September.
In televised comments at the start of a cabinet meeting, he reported that pro-Russian separatists had taken on "reinforcements". "We observe their movements, we know where they are and we expect unpredictable actions from them."
Also on Wednesday, US General Philip Breedlove, NATO's supreme commander, lent his weight to a report by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), released last week, that said columns of Russian tanks were entering Ukraine.
"We agree that there are multiple columns that we have seen; we agree with the OSCE reports. And as to their intent: I'm not sure," Breedlove said during a visit to Sofia. "My strategic team believes that there is a possibility that, as you know, this pocket of separatist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces in the east of Ukraine - it's not a very contiguous pocket.
"What worries me the most, I've said before, is that we have a situation now where the former international border, the current international border, of Ukraine and Russia, is completely porous; it is completely wide-open. Forces, money, support, supplies, weapons are flowing back and forth across this border completely at will.
Russia has repeatedly denied claims that its troops are moving across the border into rebel-held eastern Ukraine, despite openly offering its backing to elections in the separatist areas.
Reports from Donetsk, said the military presence had been increasing in recent days:
"We ourselves witnessed a military column travelling to Donetsk yesterday," she said. "There's certainly a build-up, with daily sightings of military convoys and a build up of fighting. "The Ukrainian Defence Ministry announced it is going to prop up its military to defend against possible rebel advancement across their territory."
OSCE observers had reported seeing a convoy of 43 unmarked military vehicles, five towing Howitzer heavy artillery pieces and another five towing multi-launch rocket systems, travelling into the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Tuesday.
On the ground, several hours of heavy artillery fire rocked Donetsk, the most intense fighting since the weekend.