Crisis Deepens as Ukraine Says Russian Soldiers Back Rebel Thrust

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506086.html

Ukraine’s president said Thursday that Russian troops had entered his country in support of pro-Moscow rebels who captured a key coastal town, sharply escalating a five-month-old separatist war.

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 south-east of the former Soviet republic.

Earlier he said he had canceled 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 defense ministry again denied the presence of its soldiers in Ukraine, using language redolent of the Cold War, even as two human rights advisers to President Vladimir Putin said more than 100 Russian troops had died there in a single attack on Aug. 13.

“We have noticed the launch of this informational ‘canard’ and are obliged to disappoint its overseas authors and their few apologists in Russia,” a defense ministry official, General-Major Igor Konashenkov, told Interfax news agency. “The information contained in this material bears no relation to reality.”

But 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, and a top NATO official said Russia had significantly escalated its “military interference” in Ukraine in the past two weeks.

“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.”

Global 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.

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.

Ukraine’s security and defense council said Novoazovsk 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 defenses 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 Yatsenyuk appealed to the United States, European Union and G7 countries “to freeze Russian assets and finances until Russia withdraws armed forces, equipment and agents.”

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 Russia’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,” Polyakova told Reuters.

Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko, another member of the council, which has no legal powers and an uneasy relationship with the Kremlin, said more than 100 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine in a single incident on Aug. 13, basing their information on eyewitnesses and relatives of the dead.

They said the men were in a column of trucks filled with ammunition, which was hit by a sustained volley of Grad missiles.

“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 Reuters.

In southern Russia on Thursday, a Reuters reporter saw a column of armored vehicles and dust-covered troops, one of them with an injured face, about 3 km (2miles) from the border with the part of Ukraine that Kiev says is occupied by Russian troops.

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 in camouflage fatigues without any identifying insignia who was in the area of the tent, 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 territory.

“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 July.

NATO releases satellite imagery showing Russian combat troops inside Ukraine

From – http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_112103.htm

NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium on Thursday (28 August 2014) released new satellite imagery that show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine. “Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Nico Tak, Director of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre at Allied Command Operations. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said

Mons, BELGIUM – NATO released new satellite images on Thursday, 28 August 2014, that show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine. The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action by establishing firing positions in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine.

Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), Allied Command Operations said the images confirmed what NATO and its Allies had been seeing for weeks from other sources.

“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said.

These latest images provide concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine, but are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements.

“We have also detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defence systems, artillery, tanks, and armoured personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The presence of these weapons along with substantial numbers of Russian combat troops inside Ukraine make the situation increasingly grave,” he said.

Also released were images showing substantial activity inside Russia in areas adjacent to the border with Ukraine. NATO believes this activity is being conducted in direct support to forces operating inside Ukraine, and is part of a highly coordinated and destabilising strategy.

“Russia is reinforcing and resupplying separatist forces in a blatant attempt to change the momentum of the fighting, which is currently favouring the Ukrainian military,” Brigadier General Tak said. “Russia’s ultimate aim is to alleviate pressure on separatist fighters in order to prolong this conflict indefinitely, which would result in further tragedy for the people of Eastern Ukraine,” he added.

The source of the images is an independent firm named Digital Globe. The images have not been altered or changed by NATO. Additional information has been added to identify locations, dates and equipment. DigitalGlobe images can be independently verified: http://www.digitalglobe.com

As Rebels Advance, Russia Is Accused of Sending Troops to Ukraine

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506080.html

Rumors about Moscow’s direct involvement in the Ukrainian civil war multiplied Thursday as the pro-Russian insurgents there mounted a sudden and successful counteroffensive in which Moscow apparently had a hand, though it remained unclear to what extent.

The rebels, recently besieged in regional capitals Donetsk and Luhansk, have opened a “southern front” in recent days.

The Ukrainian army confirmed Thursday that it had lost to the insurgents the city of Novoazovsk on the shore of the Sea of Azov, 120 kilometers south of Donetsk.

The separatists said earlier that their goal was to open a corridor to the Sea of Azov and the Ukrainian-Russian border.

The move would essentially end the blockade of Luhansk and Donetsk, opening a potential supply line from Russia.

It would also open a land connection between Russia and Crimea, a Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in March and currently only connected to the new mainland by sea.

Mounting Evidence
Moscow has repeatedly been accused of sending troops and military equipment to the rebels, but denies it.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said after the loss of Novoazovsk that “Russia has de-facto deployed its troops in Ukraine.”

He did not offer hard proof of his claim, nor did Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, who claimed that two Russian tank columns had rolled into the country on Thursday accompanied by Grad missile launchers.

A wealth of circumstantial evidence of Russia’s involvement has been cited in recent days, including troops on the border and unexplained soldier burials in Russia.

Ten Russian paratroopers were detained in Ukrainian territory on Monday after reportedly surrendering without a fight. They claimed to be a stray border patrol.

High-ranking insurgent official Alexander Zakharchenko said Thursday that 4,000 Russians were fighting for the separatists — and that some of them were soldiers on vacation.

But he denied the organized deployment of active Russian troops in an interview to Rossia-24 television aired Thursday.

Russian servicemen are obliged to report vacation destinations to their command.

Senior NATO official Nico Tak on Thursday estimated the number of Russian soldiers in Ukraine at about 1,000, The Associated Press reported.

Moscow used “undercover” troops during its takeover of Crimea in March, first denying their presence on Ukrainian territory and only admitting it after the annexation was completed.

The U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, said on Twitter on Thursday that Russia was providing state-of-the-art military equipment to the rebels and had recently begun sending its troops into the fray after equipment alone proved not enough to help the insurgents win.

Recent developments “indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely under way in Donetsk and Luhansk,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday, according to the department’s website.

Renewed Denials
The OSCE mission on the Russian-Ukrainian border said Thursday that it had not observed any Russian military columns crossing into Ukraine, Interfax reported.

Admittedly, the mission is understaffed to monitor the entire 1,900-kilometer border, most of which is unguarded.

A Kremlin spokesman on Wednesday reiterated the claim that Moscow was not providing the rebels with arms.

He kept silent Thursday, along with Putin and other top Russian officials.

The sole exception was Russia’s envoy to the OSCE, Andrei Kelin, who said on Rossia-24 television that no Russian troops were in Ukraine except for the 10 “stray” paratroopers captured this week.

The Russian Defense Ministry dismissed earlier this week reports about any casualties in Ukraine and said it had no troops there.

Defusing the tension somewhat, Poroshenko said Thursday the General Staffs in Kiev and Moscow had held talks on deescalation, including joint border patrols.

The UN Security Council was set to hold an emergency meeting on Ukraine late Thursday, AP reported.

Volunteers, Equipment or Invasion?
Experts contacted by The Moscow Times agreed that Russia was participating in the conflict in some form, but differed on its extent and the military’s direct involvement.

Defense analyst Igor Korotchenko, affiliated with Russia’s Defense Ministry, said Russian involvement was limited to volunteer recruits and blamed the recent developments on the Ukrainian army’s strategy.

The Ukrainian forces overreached when trying to recapture Donetsk and Luhansk in time for Independence Day last Sunday, said Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine.

Heavy casualties, fatigue and undersupply sapped the governmental forces’ strength, enabling the separatists to mount a counteroffensive, he said.

Russian nationalist-minded analyst Yegor Prosvirnin said official Moscow appeared to have ramped up military supplies to the rebels, but doubted the presence of Russian troops in their ranks.

“If there are really tank columns from Russia … the U.S. would have evidence,” said Prosvirnin, a frequent Kremlin critic who ardently advocates a Russian invasion into eastern Ukraine.

But Ukrainian political expert Vladimir Fesenko, considered to be close to Poroshenko, insisted that the rebels’ victories were due to an inflow of Russian troops.

“A counteroffensive is impossible without new equipment and soldiers to manage it,” Fesenko, an expert with the non-profit think tank Penta, said by telephone from Kiev.

“It’s a new situation in the region,” Fesenko said.

Ukraine leader, after key loss to separatists, says situation ‘difficult but controllable’

From – http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/28/us-ukraine-crisis-poroshenko-idUSKBN0GS1UE20140828?utm_source=twitter

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking on Thursday after the army lost a key town to separatists, said the situation in the conflict zone in the east was “extraordinarily difficult … but controllable”, Interfax news agency reported.

Poroshenko, who was speaking at a meeting of top security chiefs after the town of Novoazovsk fell to Russian-backed separatists, said Russian troops had come “to the rescue” of the rebels after Kiev’s earlier military successes.

The loss of Novoazovsk, Ukraine’s most southeasterly point, after a two-day assault by Russian-backed separatists in an armoured column, is a blow to government forces since it leaves vulnerable the big port city of Mariupol, further west along the coast.

Separately, a military spokesman said Ukrainian forces had regrouped to defend Mariupol and had enough troops to stop it being taken.

“The Ukrainian military have reinforced and are working out plans for a counter-offensive,” the spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, told journalists.

A presidential spokesman in a Twitter post said that Poroshenko’s central message to his security chiefs was: “We are capable of defending ourselves. The main thing is not to panic.”

Putin’s Approval Rating Falls for First Time This Year

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506076.html

President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has fallen for the first time this year after hitting record highs amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, a poll published this week by the independent Levada Center revealed.

Eighty-four percent of those polled said they approved of Putin’s actions, showing a small drop from the 87 percent who expressed support at the beginning of this month. The number of respondents who expressed disapproval of Putin’s actions grew from 13 percent earlier this month to 15 percent.

The number of those who approved of Russia’s policies had also decreased, from 66 percent at the beginning of the month to 64 percent, according to the poll published Wednesday.

Putin’s popularity has soared this year despite Western criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and alleged involvement in eastern Ukraine, climbing steadily from 80 percent since March.

It hit an all-time high of 87 percent earlier this month, just weeks after the international community rounded on Putin for alleged Russian involvement in the downing over war-torn Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a catastrophe that claimed 298 lives on July 17.

Last year at this time, long before the Ukraine crisis erupted, the president’s approval rating was 63 percent.

The poll was conducted from Aug. 22-25 among 1,600 adults in 46 Russian regions. The margin of error did not exceed 3.4 percent.

Putin’s Cherished Deniability Is Shattered

From – http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-08-27/putin-s-cherished-deniability-is-shattered

For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ability to deny Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine has always been of utmost importance. The Kremlin has stressed that it is not a party to the fighting, and that all it wants from Ukraine is peace and a few trade concessions. Deniability, however, is fast eroding. Despite increasingly surreal disavowals from Moscow, it is now apparent just how invested Putin is in the conflict’s outcome. That investment terrifies Europe and the U.S., which have no desire to match it.

During talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last night, Putin reiterated his tired message that Russia “cannot talk substantively about a ceasefire, about any agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk — this is none of our business, it’s the business of Ukraine itself.” The assertion rang more hollow than usual, however, amid published photographs of Russian troops captured in Ukraine and furtive hometown burials for Russian paratroopers killed there.

One such burial, of two soldiers, took place in the village of Vybuty near Pskov in northwestern Russia, where an airborne division is based. Efforts to conceal the deaths produced a fiasco. Though the wife of one paratrooper had reported his death on the Vkontakte social network, when a reporter, Ilya Vasyunin of the Russian Planet website, called the wife’s phone number, a woman who answered stated that the paratrooper was alive and well. Two reporters, from Russian Planet and TV Dozhd, who visited the cemetery where the two fresh graves had been seen were immediately attacked by men in black tracksuits. Local journalists, however, succeeded in photographing the graves. According to the independent TV Dozhd, the soldiers’ names and wreaths have been removed from the graves.

There are other reports of paratrooper funerals, which are hard to conceal. Soldiers have grieving families who do not necessarily share the authorities’ desire for deception. In any case, Ukrainian troops have captured some Russian paratroopers. For the first time since the conflict began in March, they were able to record interviews with them.

What the paratroopers said is immaterial given the circumstances under which they were questioned. What matters is that Moscow has admitted that they are Russian servicemen. The Russian defense ministry said the soldiers had been “patrolling the Russian-Ukrainian border and probably crossed it inadvertently in an unmarked area. As far as we know, they did not resist when they were captured by the Ukrainian military.”

That explanation was also cited by Putin, who pointed out, truthfully, that Ukrainian soldiers had also crossed into Russian territory and been sent back. The response might have sufficed to extend the deniability game if not for the soldiers’ deaths, and the efforts of other soldiers’ relatives to track down their loved ones supposedly taking part in military exercises near the Ukrainian border. The mother of one paratrooper, Lyubov Maksimova, gave a press conference Tuesday in which she apologized to Ukraine in the event her son had caused any harm.

In other words, if Russian paratroopers previously had blundered into Ukraine because border markings weren’t visible, they’ve made a habit of the mistake. In the process, some are getting killed. The captured Russian paratroopers, meanwhile, had ridden in unmarked vehicles without Russian insignia — a wholly unnecessary subterfuge had they simply been patrolling their own border.

The involvement of Russian airborne troops in the conflict appears to be a recent phenomenon. Ukrainian servicemen had never captured regular Russian soldiers before, and reporters in the conflict zone had only seen nationalist volunteers and some Chechen fighters helping out the Ukrainian separatists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The flow of Russian weapons into the area was documented, and the participation of instructors from Russian intelligence strongly suspected, but that was the extent of it until this week.

Now, with the rebels being hammered by the Ukrainian army, such support is presumably no longer enough. Unwilling to surrender the fight, Putin is surrendering his cherished deniability instead.

European and U.S. leaders are nevertheless careful not to call this a Russian-Ukrainian war. Nor has the first credible evidence of Russian troops engaged in eastern Ukraine led to calls for further economic sanctions. To call Putin’s increasingly obvious bluff would necessitate supporting the Ukrainian side, possibly with military aid. No one is prepared to do that.

Even Poroshenko is talking only of “stopping the supply of equipment and armaments to the fighters,” lest he saddle his supporters with uncomfortable truths. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, unofficially charged with pacifying Ukraine, is probably right in counting on Poroshenko and Putin to work out some kind of deal. Further escalation could spell disaster for both men. Eventually, they will have to figure out how to stop.

Putin Beware: Negotiations Are a Minefield

http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506068.html

Years ago when I was working on a big communications project and people asked me what the hardest part of my job was, I would say: Согласование!

Now when people ask me the hardest part of my job, I say: Figuring out how to translate согласование. Согласование means “the process of coming to an agreement,” which in the context of my job meant getting 10 people in six organizations — state, non-governmental, Russian and American — to all agree on a text.

I guess I’d translate this as getting everyone’s approval or maybe getting everyone on the same page. But that doesn’t really convey what the work entailed. Actually, getting them all to agree on something was like herding cats.

Согласование is the noun associated with a verb pair you probably use all the time: соглашаться/согласиться. Translation isn’t tough here: С этим решением я не согласился (I didn’t agree with that decision). Я с ним полностью согласен (I completely agree with him).

Sometimes, however, you might stray a bit from a literal translation: На самую смерть соглашусь скорее, нежели на требование ваше! (I’d rather die than agree to your demands!)

But in the workplace, согласование is a more complex process — see above — and can be trickier to translate. For example, when several authors edit a text, the miserable process of producing one version everyone agrees on is called согласование текстов (text harmonization).

When you have all the authors sitting around the table to work on it, you can call it процесс согласования (negotiating process). As you explain to one author why another author’s ideas should be represented, you might refer to согласование интересов (accommodation of interests).

If authors or bosses cannot be brought together in one room, you might pass around лист согласования (sign-off sheet). And after you get everyone to agree, you might write up протокол согласования (memorandum of agreement).

This process might concern more than texts. For example, sometimes organizations have to carry out согласование политики (policy alignment or harmonization). Or a consultant might sit down with a project head for согласование работ (determining the scope of work). Some companies even have главный менеджер по согласованиям (general approvals manager) or проектная группа по согласованиям (project approvals group), or even отдел согласование (compliance department). The people who work in them are called святые (saints).

If your task is getting a bunch of organizations to work in harmony, you can call it координирование: Мы получили распоряжение прибыть на совещание для координирования действия всех научных учреждений (We were ordered to attend a meeting to coordinate the work of all the scientific institutions).

In the world of diplomacy, the word урегулирование (settlement, dispute resolution) is often used: Главная задача — это не допустить срыв процесса политического урегулирования конфликта (The main task is to prevent a breakdown in the process to find a political settlement for the conflict). In other contexts, утряска (sorting out), from the verb утрясать (to shake out), comes in handy: Пока шла утряска деталей, дата окончательного вывода войск приближалась (While the details were being ironed out, the date for the final troop withdrawal was growing close).

If you are an optimist, you can simply say: Не беспокойся! Всё утрясётся! (Don’t worry! Everything will work out fine).

OSCE Envoys Argue Over Reports of Russian Invasion of Ukraine

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/506061.html

Ukraine’s envoy to European security body the OSCE said on Thursday that regular Russian forces had seized the southeastern city of Novoazovsk, but his Russian counterpart said no Russian forces were crossing the border at “any point.”

Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters that “what we registered is a direct invasion of the Russian military into the eastern regions of Ukraine.”

Speaking on the sidelines of an extraordinary OSCE meeting in Vienna, he added: “The city of Novoazovsk and a number of other cities close to this one have been seized by regular Russian forces.”

Ukraine viewed the latest development as an “act of aggression,” he said. “We will use all means available to Ukraine under international law, under the UN charter, to defend its territory, to defend its independence.”

In Kiev, Ukraine’s security and defense council said Novoazovsk, a border town, and other parts of Ukraine’s south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces who together with rebels were staging a counteroffensive.

At the meeting of the OSCE, which groups Russia as well as the United States among its 57 members, Prokopchuk said he had appealed “to all our partners to provide all possible support to Ukraine to defend itself and to rebuff this aggression.”

Russia denies intervening in Ukraine by arming the rebels or sending soldiers across the border. The defense ministry declined to comment on reports of Russian tanks in Novoazovsk.

Russian Ambassador Andrei Kelin told reporters during the OSCE meeting: “No Russian forces are crossing in any point the border of Ukraine.”

Apart from a small unit of about 10 Russian soldiers who he said had “unintentionally” crossed the border a couple of days ago, Kelin said that “there are no Russian forces over there.”

Kelin said there was a worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukrainian regions where “people continue to die” because of what he said was shelling and artillery fire by the Ukrainian army on the population.

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.

The US envoy to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, said that in the last 24 hours there had been “mounting reports of large numbers of Russian military personnel inside Ukraine, columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossing into southeastern Ukraine.”

“These indicate that a new Russian escalation, including a Russia-directed counteroffensive, may be underway in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — actions that are in clear violation of international law and OSCE principles and commitments,” he said.

Ukraine’s OSCE envoy says Russian forces seized city

From – http://news.yahoo.com/ukraines-osce-envoy-says-russian-forces-seized-city-115005887.html

Ukraine’s envoy to European security body the OSCE said on Thursday that regular Russian forces had seized the southeastern city of Novoazovsk, but his Russian counterpart said no Russian forces were crossing the border.

Ihor Prokopchuk, Ukraine’s representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told reporters that “what we registered is a direct invasion of the Russian military into the eastern regions of Ukraine”.

Speaking on the sidelines of an extraordinary OSCE meeting in Vienna, he added: “The city of Novoazovsk and a number of other cities close to this one have been seized by regular Russian forces”.

Ukraine viewed the latest development as an “act of aggression”, he said. “We will use all means available to Ukraine under international law, under the U.N. charter, to defend its territory, to defend its independence.”.

In Kiev, Ukraine’s security and defense council said Novoazovsk, a border town, and other parts of Ukraine’s south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces who together with rebels were staging a counter-offensive.

At the meeting of the OSCE, which groups Russia as well as the United States among its 57 members, Prokopchuk said he had appealed “to all our partners to provide all possible support to Ukraine to defend itself and to rebuff this aggression.”

Russia denies intervening in Ukraine by arming the rebels or sending soldiers across the border. The defense ministry declined to comment on reports of Russian tanks in Novoazovsk.

Russian Ambassador Andrey Kelin told reporters during the OSCE meeting: “No Russian forces are crossing in any point the border of Ukraine.”

Apart from a small unit of about 10 Russian soldiers who he said had “unintentionally” crossed the border a couple of days ago, Kelin said that “there are no Russian forces over there”.

Kelin said there was a worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukrainian regions where “people continue to die” because of what he said was shelling and artillery fire by the Ukrainian army on the population.

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.

The U.S. envoy to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, said that in the last 24 hours there had been “mounting reports of large numbers of Russian military personnel inside Ukraine, columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossing into southeastern Ukraine”.

“These indicate that a new Russian escalation, including a Russia-directed counteroffensive, may be underway in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — actions that are in clear violation of international law and OSCE principles and commitments,” he said.