Ukraine Launches Major Assault on Separatists


The Ukrainian military has launched its first major assault against the pro-Russian forces that have seized control of parts of eastern Ukraine.

But two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down in the fighting. One was hit with what the Ukrainians said was a surface to air missile. Both pilots were killed.

Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said pro-Russia insurgents have suffered significant losses, including many killed and injured, after his government launched the offensive against the eastern city of Slovyansk.

For weeks, cities and towns have been falling to pro-Russian forces like dominoes. The Kremlin said Kiev's offensive has  "destroyed" the two-week-old agreement on cooling Ukraine's crisis.

Ukraine was at the center of President Barack Obama's meeting today at the White House with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Germany is a critical player in the diplomatic efforts to end this crisis.

Obama said harsher sanctions on a range of sectors of the Russian economy could be an option:

"Our goal is not to punish Russia. The goal is to offer Russia an incentive to choose the better course," Obama said.

Neither leader wants to get very tough with Russia over Ukraine. Russia is one of Germany's leading trading partners and Germany gets one-third of its oil and gas from them.

Today the U.N. Security Council convened another emergency meeting on the growing crisis in Ukraine. Western powers accused Moscow of supplying the pro-Russia separatists that have seized government buildings in 10 eastern cities.

With the increased fighting in Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel chided fellow NATO member nations to start pulling their own weight. America still pays for most of the defense of Europe.

"Today America's GDP is smaller than the combined GDP's of our 27 NATO allies," Hagel said. "But America's defense spending is three times our allies' combined defense spending."

While America has been defending Western Europe, European governments have been downsizing their militaries in order to fund lavish welfare states. Now war has come to NATO's doorstep.

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