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Ukrainian defense minister gets boot; Russia to remove forces from border

| Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, 7:15 p.m.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed Defense Minister Defense Minister Valeriy Geletey on Sunday as Russia announced it was pulling back forces from Ukraine's borders.

Poroshenko said he'll present a defense minister candidate to parliament in Kiev on Monday and that he expects to win approval for the person, whom he didn't identify. This will “strengthen power structures and defense capability of Ukraine,” Poroshenko wrote in the statement published on his website.

The new military chief will be Ukraine's fourth defense minister since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in February. Geletey was criticized for Ukrainian armed forces losses in a pro-Russian separatist offensive in late August. Poroshenko fired the head of Ukraine's border guard service last week and replaced the governor of the war-torn Donetsk region.

Ukraine, the United States and the European Union accuse Russia of providing weapons, financing and troops to the separatists, an allegation Moscow denies. The two sides imposed tit-for-tat sanctions that have depressed economic growth in the EU and Russia, causing the latter to flirt with a recession.

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to withdraw from Ukraine's borders on Oct. 11. About 17,600 soldiers, who were on drills since the summer in the Rostov region, are to be redeployed at their permanent bases, according to a statement on the Kremlin's website. Russian soldiers have started their withdrawal, state-owned newswire RIA Novosti reported, citing the Defense Ministry in Moscow.

“We've seen this before with Putin withdrawing and then sending back forces,” said Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin Bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Winter is coming, and it's good for the morale of Russian troops and their families to go to their home bases and not camp out.”

Separatists made 36 assaults on government positions in a 24-hour period Saturday to Sunday, Ukraine's Defense Ministry wrote on Facebook. Rebels used anti-tank missiles, artillery and mortars in fighting at Donetsk airport and near Debaltsevo, Avdiyivka and Shchastya. Rebels also fired mortars in the Luhansk region.

Twelve civilians, including six women and one child, were killed in shelling attacks on Donetsk residential areas during the weekend, Interfax said, citing information from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic press service. Two people were injured in shelling, the Donetsk city council said on its website.

While a truce, sealed Sept. 5, has reduced the bloodshed in Ukraine's easternmost regions, it's been broken by almost daily violence. There have been at least 331 deaths since the deal was agreed, the United Nations estimates.

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