DONETSK: Two of the most senior rebels battling government troops in eastern Ukraine quit on Thursday, deepening the disarray in a pro-Moscow separatist movement that is being pushed back by an Ukrainian military offensive.
The resignations came on the same day that artillery shells landed for the first time since the conflict began in the centre of the eastern city of Donetsk, the separatists’ main stronghold.
The reverses suffered by the rebels could force a tactical rethink by Russian President Vladimir Putin. While he has denied directly helping the rebels, his strategy of keeping Ukraine from integrating with the West has benefited from having a part of the country under the control of pro-Moscow separatists.
The most prominent of the separatists to resign on Thursday was a man who goes by the name of Colonel Igor Strelkov and who was defence minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Nicknamed “Strelok” - Shooter - by fighters under his command, he had previously lived quietly in a Moscow suburb where he was known as Igor Girkin. Kiev alleged he was a Russian intelligence officer, which Moscow denied.
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