Captured Russian soldiers video clouds Putin-Poroshenko first meeting
Ukraine released a video of captured Russian soldiers today, sharply escalating a dispute over Moscow's alleged backing for separatist rebels in the east of the former Soviet republic.
The footage was released only hours before the two countries' presidents were due to meet for the first time since June to discuss the conflict, which has killed more than 2,000 people and provoked Western sanctions against Russia.
In Moscow, a military source told Russian news agencies that a group of soldiers had surrendered to Ukrainian forces after crossing the border by accident.
Ukraine rejected that explanation. "This wasn't a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.
He also said separatists were attacking the southeastern border town of Novoazovsk "at this very minute" and Ukrainian forces had destroyed 12 armoured infantry vehicles in the area.
Twelve Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, he said, including four border guards who died when Russian Mi-24 helicopters attacked a frontier post in Luhansk region yesterday.
The video provided the strongest evidence yet to back up Kiev's claims of direct Russian military involvement, which Moscow has always disputed. It came a day after Ukraine's state security service said it had detained 10 Russian paratroopers who had crossed the border in a column of several dozen armed infantry vehicles.
In footage posted on the official Facebook page of the Ukrainian government's "anti-terrorist operation", the men were shown dressed in camouflage fatigues. One of them, who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov, listed his personal details, including the name of his paratroop regiment, which he said was based in the Russian town of Kostroma.
"I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70 km (45-mile) march over three days," he said. "Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We've come as cannon fodder," he said in the video.
Another man in the footage, who gave his name as Sergeant Aleksei Generalov, said: "Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war."
The latest dispute cast a further pall over today's talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk, where presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine were meeting for the first time since a tense encounter in France on June 6.
"I hope the result of today’s meeting will be the achievement of an agreement that will bring peace to Ukrainian soil," Poroshenko told reporters.
He held separate talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, the summit host.