Armoured vehicles with Russian flags appear in east Ukraine

Armoured vehicles with Russian flags appear in east Ukraine

Armoured vehicles bearing Russian flags rolled through a flashpoint town in eastern Ukraine today, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the country was on the brink of civil war.

Tensions continued to mount ahead of high-level diplomatic talks on the Ukraine crisis in Geneva tomorrow after Kiev sent in troops to oust pro-Moscow separatists from the east.

An AFP reporter in the town of Slavyansk saw at least six APCs, some flying Russian flags, carrying dozens of armed men through the town.

Russian media said Ukrainian troops in the vehicles had switched sides to join the separatists but the Ukrainian army told AFP that it had no reports that any of its equipment had been seized.

Elsewhere, pro-Russian gunmen stormed the mayor's office in the regional capital of Donetsk, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

As the situation on the ground appeared to escalate, the authorities in Kiev ratcheted up the verbal attack on Russia, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accusing Moscow of trying to build "a new Berlin wall".

Russian commanders in the separatist east had issued pro-Kremlin militants with "shoot-to-kill" orders, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said in a statement.

Yatsenyuk demanded Moscow halt its alleged support for the separatists.

"There is only one directive for the Ukrainian foreign ministry -- the Russian government has to immediately withdraw its commando groups, condemn the terrorists and demand they leave the installations," he said.

Nevertheless, he said Kiev remained committed to Thursday's crunch talks scheduled in Geneva between the top diplomats of Russia, the European Union, the United States and Ukraine.

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