NEW: Russia's U.N. envoy says dialogue can't occur amid Ukraine military action
NEW: Ukraine U.N. envoy says Russia is still stoking flames of separatism
NEW: Pentagon acknowledges slow withdrawal of Russian troops from border
Four missing monitors are held by pro-Russian groups, Ukraine foreign ministry says
The recent election in Ukraine was a step in the right direction, Russian U.N. Representative Vitaly Churkin told members of the Security Council Wednesday, but unless Ukraine halts military action in the eastern part of the country, Russia cannot engage in dialogue.
Ukrainian U.N. Representative Yuriy A. Sergeyev, in turn, accused Russia of “stoking the flames of separatism” in the eastern part of his country.
The majority of Security Council members commended Ukraine’s presidential election, won by billionaire Petro Poroshenko with 55% of the vote.
“Despite successful elections which could be the beginning of a new chapter for Ukraine, violence rages on, causing loss of life and injuries.” said Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs.
Clashes in eastern Luhansk
Amid the ongoing tensions, Ukraine’s National Guard base in the eastern Luhansk region was attacked Wednesday by what the country’s Interior Ministry described as “terrorists.”
“There have been losses among military personnel as well as among the attackers,” a statement from the ministry said.
The Luhansk region is, with neighboring Donetsk, at the heart of the separatists’ bid to declare independence from Ukraine.
There dozens of pro-Russian separatists were killed after Ukrainian security forces launched an assault on Donetsk International Airport on Monday, following the militants’ seizure of a terminal.
The Ukrainian military’s move against the militants at Donetsk airport has been interpreted by some as an indication that newly elected President Petro Poroshenko will take a tougher stance.
The presence of military aircraft may be intended as a reminder of the security forces’ capacity to act.
Russian troop withdrawal
The Pentagon and NATO are saying Russia has moved at least a few thousand troops back from its border with Ukraine, but a Pentagon spokesman said tens of thousands of combat-ready troops remain.
The Kremlin last week announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops to return to their bases but said the pullback could take some time.
NATO said Wednesday that there was “ongoing evidence of equipment and supplies being packed or prepared for movement” in the area.
“A small number of units have now withdrawn from the border. The activity we are observing continues to suggest a slow withdrawal of forces,” a NATO military officer said.
However, he said, many of the Russian troops remain in the border area and are capable of operations at short notice. “Thousands of troops have withdrawn, but tens of thousands remain,” he said.
NATO is monitoring the situation and would welcome a complete, verifiable Russian withdrawal, the NATO military officer said.
But, he added, “Any withdrawal does not erase or reverse what has happened in recent months. Russia has violated the trust of the international community by illegally invading Ukraine. The security dynamic in Europe has been fundamentally changed.”
Ukraine is not part of NATO, but other former Soviet states such as Poland do belong to the alliance. Russia is opposed to any move by Ukraine to forge closer ties with NATO.
Where are the OSCE monitors?
Four members of Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission who went missing in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk are being held by a pro-Russian group, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebynis said Wednesday.
“The negotiations for their release are in process,” Perebynis said during a briefing in Kiev.
The team members, who are Swiss, Turkish, Estonian and Danish, were on a routine patrol Monday east of Donetsk when last heard from, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for political affairs Undersecretary Jeffrey Feltman said the OSCE does not know who is holding the four monitors.
The last time an OSCE team went missing in Donetsk, its members turned up in the hands of militant separatists in the town of Slovyansk. They were freed just over a week later.
There were fears Wednesday that another group of 11 monitors had gone missing after being stopped at a roadblock in Marinka, west of Donetsk, but the group reestablished contact with the OSCE after returning to Donetsk, according to an OSCE statement.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported from Donetsk and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. Journalist Victoria Butenko contributed from Kiev and CNN’s Andrew Carey from Donetsk.