Pro-Russian separatists walk at a destroyed war memorial on Savur-Mohyla, a hill east of the city of Donetsk, Ukraine. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Ukraine's president says Russian troops have entered his
country in support of pro-Moscow rebels who captured a key
coastal town, sharply escalating a five-month-old separatist
President Petro Poroshenko told a meeting of security chiefs
that the situation was "extraordinarily difficult ... but
controllable" after Russian-backed rebels seized the town of
Novoazovsk in the southeast of the former Soviet republic.
Earlier Poroshenko said he had cancelled a visit to Turkey
because of the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in the
eastern Donetsk region, "as Russian troops have actually been
brought into Ukraine".
Russia's defence ministry again denied the presence of its
soldiers in Ukraine, using language redolent of the Cold War.
"We have noticed the launch of this informational 'canard'
and are obliged to disappoint its overseas authors and their
few apologists in Russia," a ministry official, General-Major
Igor Konashenkov, told Interfax news agency. "The information
contained in this material bears no relation to reality."
But sceptical Western governments appeared to be running out
of patience with Moscow's denials.
Referring to talks that Putin held with Poroshenko just two
days ago, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: "It is
simply not enough to engage in talks in Minsk, while Russian
tanks continue to roll over the border into Ukraine. Such
activity must cease immediately."
Poland's foreign minister said Russian "aggression" had
created the most serious security crisis in Europe for
decades. A top NATO official said Russia had significantly
escalated its "military interference" in Ukraine in the past
"We assess well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating
inside Ukraine," said Dutch Brigadier-General Nico Tak, head
of NATO's crisis management centre. "They are supporting
separatists (and) fighting with them."
Two human rights advisers to Putin said that more than 100
Russian troops had died in Ukraine in a single attack on Aug.
13, and one of them said she considered Russia's actions an
Global stock markets fell on news of the worsening crisis,
which has prompted the United States and European Union to
impose sanctions on Moscow and led both Russia and NATO to
step up military exercises, creating the tensest East-West
standoff since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
The United States is considering a number of options in
response to Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine and
believes sanctions are the "most effective tool", U.S. State
Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said an EU summit on Sunday
would discuss the possibility of further sanctions.
Rebel advances this week have opened a new front in the
conflict just as Ukraine's army appeared to have gained the
upper hand, virtually encircling the separatists in their
main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.
A Ukrainian presidential spokesman said on Twitter that
Poroshenko's central message to his security chiefs was: "We
are capable of defending ourselves. The main thing is not to
The defence and security council said it was re-introducing
compulsory military service from this autumn, but conscripts
would not serve in the conflict zone.
Earlier, the council said Novoazovsk, on the Azov Sea, and
other parts of southeast Ukraine had fallen under the control
of Russian forces, and a counter-offensive by Russian troops
and separatist units was continuing.
It said Ukrainian government forces had withdrawn from
Novoazovsk "to save their lives" and were now reinforcing
defences in the port of Mariupol further west, which a rebel
leader said was the separatists' next objective.
"Today we reached the Sea of Azov, the shore, and the process
of liberating our land, which is temporarily occupied by the
Ukrainian authorities, will keep going further and further,"
Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed
Donetsk People's Republic, told Reuters in an interview.
He said there were about 3,000 Russian volunteers serving in
the rebel ranks.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk appealed to the
United States, EU and G7 countries "to freeze Russian assets
and finances until Russia withdraws armed forces, equipment
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukrainian Interior Minister
Arsen Avakov, said on Facebook: "The invasion of Putin's
regular Russian army of Ukraine is now an established fact!"
Despite Moscow's denials, a member of Putin's advisory
council on human rights, Ella Polyakova, told Reuters she
believed Russia was carrying out an invasion of Ukraine.
"When masses of people, under commanders' orders, on tanks,
APCs and with the use of heavy weapons, (are) on the
territory of another country, cross the border, I consider
this an invasion," she said.
Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko - another member of the council
which has no legal powers and an uneasy relationship with the
Kremlin - said their information on the Aug. 13 attack was
based on accounts by eyewitnesses and relatives of the dead.
They said the troops had been in trucks filled with
ammunition. "A column of Russian soldiers was attacked by
Grad rockets and more than 100 people died. It all happened
in the city of Snizhnye in Donetsk province," Krivenko told
In southern Russia on Thursday, a Reuters reporter saw a
column of armoured vehicles and dust-covered troops, one of
them with an injured face, about 3 km (2 miles) from the
border with the part of Ukraine that Kiev says is occupied by
The column was driving east, away from the border, across
open countryside near the village of Krasnodarovka, in
Russia's Rostov region.
None of the men or vehicles had standard military
identification marks, but the reporter saw a Mi-8 helicopter
with a red star insignia -- consistent with Russian military
markings -- land next to a nearby military first-aid tent.
Asked if he was with the Russian military, a man near the
tent in camouflage fatigues but without any identifying
insignia, said only: "We are patriots."
The U.S. ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, tweeted:
"Russian supplied tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and
multiple rocket launchers have been insufficient to defeat
Ukraine' armed forces. So now an increasing number of Russian
troops are intervening directly in fighting on Ukrainian
"Russia has also sent its newest air defense systems
including the SA-22 into eastern Ukraine & is now
directly involved in the fighting," he said.
Fighting in the east erupted in April, a month after Russia
annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in response to the
toppling of a pro-Moscow president in Kiev.
A United Nations report this week said more than 2,200 people
have been killed, not including the 298 who died when a
Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel-held territory in