Ukraine accused Russia on Thursday of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, while Western powers said Moscow had "outright lied" about its role and dangerously escalated the conflict.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told a meeting of security chiefs that the situation was “extraordinarily difficult ... but controllable” after Russian-backed rebels took the town of Novoazovsk in the southeast of the former Soviet republic.
Earlier he 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 defence 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.
US President Barack Obama said Thursday it was “plain for the world to see” that Russian forces were fighting in Ukraine, but ruled out any US military action to resolve the escalating conflict.
“Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fueling this conflict," the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said at an emergency session of the UN Security Council.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, in reference to talks that Russian President Vladimir Putin held with Poroshenko just two days ago, 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.”
FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from Kiev
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.”
“We have the feeling here in Kiev the country is getting on a war footing,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported from the capital. “The National Security and Defence Council has already talked about reinstating compulsory military service.”
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 defence 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 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 the Reuters news agency in an interview.
He said there were about 3,000 Russian volunteers serving in the rebel ranks.
On Friday, attention turned to the remaining Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by advancing separatist fighters in the Novoazovsk area, with both Zakharchenko and Putin suggesting “humanitarian corridors” to allow them to surrender and evacuate casualties.
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”.
Fighting in Ukraine’s 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 separatist-held territory in July.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-08-28