Crisis deepens as Ukraine says Russia moves into southeast region
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said today that Russian forces had entered his country and the military conflict was worsening after Russian-backed separatists swept into a key town in the east.
Poroshenko said he was cancelling a visit to Turkey and conferring with defense chiefs because of the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in the eastern Donetsk region, "as Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine".
A NATO military officer said: "We assess well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine... They are supporting separatists (and) fighting with them."
Russia says it has no involvement in the conflict between pro-Moscow rebels and the Ukrainian military, in which more than 2,200 people have been killed since April.
It denies sending in weapons or troops, despite the capture of 11 soldiers inside Ukraine this week who Moscow said had probably crossed the border by accident. Russia's envoy to the OSCE security forum in Vienna said no Russian forces were crossing the Ukrainian border "at any point".
A rebel leader said their objective was Mariupol, a major port and industrial center further west.
The latest sharp escalation in the crisis came only two days after the presidents of both countries held their first talks in more than two months and agreed to work towards launching a peace process.
Ukraine's security and defense council said the border town of Novoazovsk and other parts of Ukraine's south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces.
"A counter-offensive by Russian troops and separatist units is continuing in south-east Ukraine," it said on Twitter.
It said Ukrainian government forces had withdrawn from Novoazovsk "to save their lives" and were now reinforcing defenses in Mariupol.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk appealed to the United States, European Union and G7 countries "to freeze Russian assets and finances until Russia withdraws armed forces, equipment and agents".
French President Francois Hollande said it would be "intolerable and unacceptable" if it was proved true that Russian troops had entered Ukrainian territory.