Tag Archives: Russia

#Minsk talks at impasse as separatists demand concessions while Russian army strikes #RussiainvadedUkraine


by Ian BatesonKatya Gorchinskaya.
Defense Minister Valeriy Heletei warns that Ukraine needs to change its strategy in response to Russia's open military aggression. © ATO press centerDefense Minister Valeriy Heletei warns that Ukraine needs to change its strategy in response to Russia’s open military aggression. © ATO press center.

The Sept. 1 trilateral talks in Minsk have so far failed to yield results. Officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – a party participating in negotiations and only international player – said the situation is currently all but impossible to resolve.

“We can truly imagine some very dark scenarios now,” OSCE Chairman Didier Burkhalter told a Swiss TV station, adding “the risks of escalation are very, very numerous.”

Ukraine, representatives of the self-proclaimed republics in the country’s east and the OSCE have agreed to meet again on Sept. 5 for the next round of talks. They are set to discuss a potential ceasefire and a prisoner exchange, according to Andrei Purgin, deputy premier of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

But that is about the only agreement this diplomatic effort achieved.

Prior to the meeting of the Contact Group, Russian-supported separatists demanded extensive concessions in exchange for keeping the territory they control nominally within the Ukrainian state.

Separatists announced terms under which they would stay within Ukraine, but with extensive autonomy, Interfax reported.

The representatives of the separatist republics demanded special autonomous status for their republics, for the Russian language and special economic status that would allow them to join the Russian led Customs Union.

Separatists leaders have also demanded amnesty for their fighters, special status for their military units, and the right to appoint judges and prosecutors. Ukraine would be responsible for rebuilding, but have little say in how things would be run.

The terms are highly unappealing to the Ukrainians government, but come at a time when Ukraine is hard pressed to find a diplomatic solution as Ukrainian forces lose ground following pro-Russian forces entering the previously peaceful southern Donetsk Region from Russia and push towards the port city of Mariupol.

“This is an initial stage. It can hardly end with something drastically big,” said Purgin.

In the contact group Ukraine is represented by former president Leonid Kuchma, Russia by its ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, and the OSCE by its chairperson-in-office on Ukraine Heidi Tagliavini. The self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic has its chairman of the Supreme Council Valery Karyakin in Minsk to participate in consultations.

The Minsk talks come as Ukraine accuses Russia of a full-scale invasion. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Valeriy Heletei said that Russia has lost the so-called “hybrid war” with Ukraine, and has opted for a full-scale invasion. He said Ukraine needs to change its military strategy in response to Russia’s move.

“The operation to liberate the east of Ukraine from terrorists is over. We need to urgently build defense from Russia, which is trying to not only strengthen its position on the territories that had been previously occupied by the terrorists, but advance onto new territories,” Heletei wrote on his Facebook page.

Another government official, who spoke to the Kyiv Post on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Russia has brought between 10,000 to 20,000 troops into Ukraine in the past week.

“The forces that were stationed across the border, they’re now attacking,” he said.  According to him it took Ukraine time to realize exactly how many troops Russia had brought in because Ukraine has no satellite intelligence capabilities.

President Petro Poroshenko spent much of the day in meetings about the situation, including with Defense Minister Heletei. His statements about the need for new tactics was issued in conjunction with the National Expert Council on Defense, an advisory body made up of military experts.Kyiv Post+ offers special coverage of Russia's war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.Kyiv Post+ offers special coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.

Their statement explained how the government’s strategy has to change in response to new challenges, warning that in the short term the situation is bound to get worse. The council said Ukraine needs to create a brand new system of national governance suitable for war time, which would include the Cabinet of Ministers functioning 24/7.

The council said military command has to be concentrated in the hands of army professionals, rather than shared with the State Security Service, as is now the case.

The country should also brace itself for full-scale Russian aggression, and prepare to defend itself, according to the council. That includes the use of military aviation and bombing of military and civil objects across the whole country, not just the east.

“Special attention needs to be paid to prepare for military action, including fighting intelligence and subversive groups of the enemy,” the council said. It also recommended moving back snap parliamentary election.

The council concludes the only way to stop Vladimir Putin’s aggression would be to “strike the aggressor so as to cause high human casualties within his armed forces.”


Kyiv Post.

Boris Nemtsov: Why does Putin wage war with Ukraine? #Putin #RussiainvadedUkraine


Boris Nemtsov.Putin's Soviet RussiaPutin’s Soviet Russia. © shoutout2day.com

At first glance, and from the point of view of a sane person, the war between Russia and Ukraine is some sort of a nightmare, a madness that only brings grief, conflicts and problems to all.

Half a year ago this scenario seemed unreal. It seems that it would take an enemy of both Russia and Ukraine to make enemies out of two peoples with centuries of common history.

However, current events indicate that the most nightmarish, the most bloody scenario of fratricidal war is already developing. This is not our war, this is not your war, this is not the war of 20-year old paratroopers sent out there. This is Vladimir Putin’s war.

Why does he need it? Well, he has openly answered this question himself. “We need to start negotiations about politically organizing a society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine.”

He made this statement only now, but the sending of saboteurs-separatists, weapons, and a persistent desire of Putin to force Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to sit at the negotiation table with pro-Putin militants, many of whom are Russian citizens – all of this betrayed his intentions long before the public confession.

The words of Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, which followed those of Putin, that Putin was misunderstood about the statehood of the east of Ukraine, should not be taken seriously. He talks nonsense all the time. Things like “Putin is married to Russia.” So, once again, Putin himself said: “We need to start negotiations about a political organization of the society and statehood in south-east of Ukraine.” End of quote.

Until lately the goal of Ukraine’s dissection has not been set publicly, but instead replaced with the idea of so-called federalization. Kremlin’s hypocrisy lies in its attempt to impose on Ukraine and its people something that actual Russian citizens are deprived of because Russia itself has not had any sort of federal state for a long time, since 2004.

Feeble attempts to advocate for the interests of the regions – primarily for the financial ones – are suppressed in a cruel way.

So, Putin is trying to dissect Ukraine and create in the east of the country a puppet state, Novorossiya, that is full economically and politically controlled by the Kremlin.

It’s crucial for his clan to control metallurgy in the east of Ukraine, as well as its military-industrial complex. Moreover, southeastern Ukraine is rich in shale gas which would create real competition for the business of Putin’s Gazprom.

A disastrous tourism season in Crimea, with a sharp decline in the number of tourists, unheard of price hikes for goods and services, a shortage of drinking water, is pushing Putin’s regime towards the annexation of southeastern Ukraine to create a ground corridor to the peninsula.

To achieve these goals, Putin brought in his troops, including paratroopers and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s men. This is why he supplies weapons and heavy artillery to the east, and this is why he doomed Russia to isolation and sanctions.

These are the paranoid goals for which Russians and Ukrainians are dying while Russia itself is sinking into lies, violence, obscurantism and imperial hysteria.

It’s easy to brush it off by saying that he is insane. Many people occasionally think so, including this author. But there is also another explanation.

Through his bloody actions though he his fomenting a fratricidal war; one can see his main goal – preservation of personal power and money at any cost. Before the war his popularity rating was crawling down slowly but surely.

Despite censorship, little by little the society started to understand that those in power are greedy and amoral people whose main goal is personal enrichment.

The Party of Thieves (Editor’s note: This is a common derogatory reference to Yedinaya Rossia, the ruling party of Russia) was losing its position and needed a large-scale shakeup, which would reverse the trend and restore popularity and trust.

Ukraine became an example of an anti-criminal revolution, which overthrew a thieving president. Oh so you dared to get out onto the street and throw off a president? Ukraine needs to be punished for it to make sure that no Russian would gets these thoughts.

Moreover, Ukraine chose the European way, which implies the rule of law, democracy and change of power. Ukraine’s success on this way is a direct threat to Putin’s power because he chose the opposite course – a lifetime in power, filled with arbitrariness and corruption.

Now, to make sure he does not end up behind bars for violating the constitution of the Russian Federation because sending troops to a foreign state without the approval of the Federation Council of Russia, as well as the violation of Russia’s international obligations on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Putin does not leave himself any maneuvers except to stay in power until his death.

So his behavior looks like madness, but in fact it’s a cold strategy for life-long despotism.

Often supporters of the idea of Russian World (Editor’s note: This idea implies the existence of a trans-national community united by its love of Russia, its culture and language) explain Putin’s aggression in Ukraine by saying that post-Soviet republics, including Ukraine, is the zone of vital interests for Russia.

Instead of showing the world an example of rule of law, security, development and high quality of life, implanted into the minds of people is the concept of raw force and threats. However, he achieves the opposite result.

Ukraine is already heading for NATO, even though before the war it had a non-aligned status. The actual North Atlantic Treaty has grown stronger, the bond between America and Europe has become more durable than before. Moreover, Putin’s aggression consolidated the Ukrainian people, and the fight for independence and territorial integrity became the national idea.

In other words, none of Putin’s goals have been achieved. The opposite is happening.

(Boris Nemtsov is a top opposition figure in Russia, and leader of Solidarnost, a liberal political force).


Kyiv Post.

 

We need to tell the truth about what Russia is doing in Ukraine #Putin #RussiainvadedUkraine


Nato must face up to the realities of Putin’s war of aggression in eastern Europe – and take material steps to support Ukraine. 

.Putin's Soviet RussiaPutin’s Soviet Russia © shoutout2day.com

As the Ukraine crisis has intensified over the past six months, Russia has been developing a new form of warfare – inserting special forces, provoking, and slowly, deliberately escalating the conflict. Russian actions flout international law and the agreements that have assured stability in the post-cold war world. But warnings and sanctions have thus far failed. The Nato summit in Wales this week offers the best, and perhaps last, opportunity to halt aggression in Europe without major commitments of Nato forces. But to do so requires a deeper understanding of the situation and much more resolute allied action.

First, Vladimir Putin’s actions against Ukraine haven’t been “provoked”. They are part of a long-term plan to recreate a greater Russia by regaining control of Ukraine and other states in the “near abroad”. Russia is not going to admit that it has invaded because to do so might invite a stronger Nato response. But until Nato governments unambiguously label Russian actions “aggression” and “invasion”, they will have difficulty mustering support for the stronger actions that needs to be taken.

Putin is not likely to be dissuaded by stronger sanctions; while they may disrupt some elements of the Russian economy, and he would of course prefer not to face them, he also uses sanctions himself to strengthen his leverage over those sectors most engaged with the west, and to gain sympathy from his own “electorate”.

Nato must act decisively to strengthen member states that feel threatened by Putin’s actions. Its forces should be permanently stationed in the Baltics, Poland and eastern Balkans. Its rapid reaction forces should be bolstered. Additionally, more demanding military exercises should be held. Nato’s nuclear deterrent must be re-emphasised. Long overdue modernisation should be undertaken. All this requires greater resources, including budget and manpower.

But these are the relatively easy steps. Even if undertaken – and they will take months and years to be implemented – they are unlikely to halt the growing threat, nor will they prevent the demoralisation of our friends in eastern Europe. As we like to say in America, “this is not their first rodeo”. They understand that aggressors are strengthened by their successes. And they know that today Ukraine is fighting on Nato’s periphery for the very same values of freedom, self-government and democracy that Nato espouses. They are asking themselves how courageous Nato will be, confronting a renewed Russian threat, if Nato nations today fear to provide information, military advice and assistance to an independent European state of 45 million fighting a defensive battle merely to regain control its own territory. And, yes, it is open warfare in eastern Ukraine now.

The success of this Nato summit will be measured not simply by its declarations of intent to strengthen alliance members in eastern Europe but, perhaps more importantly, by its willingness to provide Ukraine with the diplomatic, economic and, most immediately, military assistance necessary.

True, there is no “military” solution to Ukraine. The only solution is diplomatic: Putin must be persuaded to cease and desist. But, as we are learning, that persuasion requires not only diplomacy and sanctions, but also assisting Ukraine in creating the military means to defeat Russia’s new war strategy.

Information, training, military advice and hardware provided now will likely save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the future. This is the time to speak the truth about Russian aggression and to act resolutely in aiding Ukraine to halt it.


The Guardian.

Ukraine President Says Europe’s Security Depends on Stopping Russia #RussiainvadedUkraine #WarInEurope


When a state sends more than a thousand troops with mobile artillery and heavy equipment into a neighboring state and takes control of territory, that’s an invasion, right? – Serge Schmemann

Ukrainian militiamen secured an area on the outskirts of Mariupol, where a Russian-backed assault was expected.Ukrainian militiamen secured an area on the outskirts of Mariupol, where a Russian-backed assault was expected. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — Accusing Russia of waging a campaign of “military aggression and terror” against his country, President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine told European leaders here on Saturday that their own countries’ security depended on stopping Russian troops from stoking a conflict in eastern Ukraine that he said could escalate into a wider war.

His warnings won no pledges of military assistance from the European Union, but helped set the stage for a new round of sanctions against Russia. Leaders ducked an immediate decision on what new measures to take, despite agreeing that Moscow had escalated the conflict sharply in recent days. They instead asked the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, to prepare proposals for expanding existing sanctions, and said these must be ready “for consideration within a week,” according to a statement issued early Sunday.

Saying that Russia was pushing the conflict in Ukraine toward “the point of no return,” the president of commission, José Manuel Barroso, said European leaders who gathered Saturday in Brussels would endorse new, tougher measures in an effort to make Moscow “come to reason.”

Some European leaders, particularly those from former Communist nations in Eastern Europe, called for direct military assistance to Ukraine’s badly stretched armed forces, which are battling pro-Russian rebels on three fronts in eastern Ukraine. But officials said a decision on military aid would be left to individual countries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, speaking early Sunday after the meeting broke up, said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily.” But she said further sanctions were needed, as “the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last few days,” and would be imposed “if this situation continues.”

She said it was unclear whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine constituted an invasion under international law, but added that “the sum of all the evidence we have seen so far is that Russian arms and Russian forces are operating on Ukrainian territory.” Despite her numerous phone conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, she said she could not make “a final judgment” on his intentions and whether he might still try to take “further parts of the country under his control.”

Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian tanks had entered and flattened a small town between the rebel-held city of Luhansk and the Russian border.

Mr. Poroshenko, alongside Mr. Barroso in Brussels, said that Ukraine still hoped for a political settlement with the rebels, but that a flow of Russian troops and armored vehicles into Ukraine in recent days to support them were setting off a broader conflict.

“We are too close to a border where there will be no return to the peace plan,” Mr. Poroshenko said, asserting that since Wednesday, “thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine, with a very high risk not only for the peace and stability of Ukraine but for the peace and stability of the whole of Europe.”

He added that this made Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine “crucially important for all of us.”

Russia has dismayed European leaders by repeatedly denying that it has sent troops or military hardware into Ukraine. After the Ukrainian authorities released videos on Tuesday of captured Russian troops, Moscow conceded that some of its soldiers had crossed into Ukraine but said they had done so “by accident.”

Rebel leaders say Russian servicemen are fighting in Ukraine during their holiday leave. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a separatist leader in Donetsk, said earlier this week that these soldiers “would rather take their vacation not on a beach but with us, among brothers, who are fighting for their freedom.”

Russia’s evasions and denials in response to mounting evidence of its direct involvement in supporting pro-Russian separatists has left even Europe’s more cautious leaders, notably Ms. Merkel, ready to endorse further sanctions. Ms. Merkel, the dominant figure in European policy-making, said early Sunday that Germany still favored a negotiated settlement and that Europe needed to keep the pressure on Russia with additional sanctions. “We need to do something to clearly demonstrate what are the values we defend,” she said.

She said that Russia’s opaque political system made it difficult to assess whether sanctions already in place were affecting Russian decision-making but added: “I would say they are.”

Ms. Merkel has spoken regularly with Mr. Putin, by telephone during the crisis but has had no success in curbing Russia’s support for the rebels, who had been losing ground in the face of a Ukrainian offensive. Now, reinvigorated by new arms and fighters from Russia, the rebels are expanding territory under their control.

Mr. Barroso said that he, too, had spoken by phone with Mr. Putin and “urged him to change course” during a “long and frank” conversation on Friday.

While not directly accusing Russia of sending soldiers into Ukraine, as Mr. Poroshenko and NATO have done, Mr. Barroso said Russian moves to feed fighting in eastern Ukraine were “simply not the way responsible, proud nations should behave in the 21st century.” Further sanctions, Mr. Barroso said, would “show to Russia’s leadership that the current situation is not acceptable and we urge them to come to reason.”

European leaders, he added, had long stated that any further escalation of the conflict would set off additional sanctions, and they would “be ready to take some more measures” at the meeting in Brussels.

President François Hollande of France also backed new measures against Russia, telling journalists in Brussels that “what is happening in Ukraine is so serious” that European leaders were obliged to increase sanctions.

But France is expected to block calls by some leaders to extend an existing ban on future military sales to Russia to include already signed contracts. France has resisted pressure from Washington and some European capitals to cancel a contract for the sale of two naval assault ships to Russia, a deal worth 1.2 billion euros, or about $1.6 billion.

Arriving Saturday for the summit, Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, demanded that existing and future military contracts with Russia be prohibited. Europe, she said, could not “listen to the lies that we are receiving from Putin” and should offer military support to Ukraine. Russia, she added, was “in a state of war against Ukraine and that means that it is in a state of war against countries that want to be closer to the European Union and that means practically that Russia is in a state of war against Europe. That means we have to help Ukraine battle back, to defend its territory and its people, to help militarily.”

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has been going on for months, mostly around rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk. But the conflict expanded last week after the rebels — backed by Russian forces, according to NATO — opened a front along a coastal road leading to the industrial port city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian military units and the civilian population were preparing on Saturday to defend the city against any assault by the Russian-backed militias, Ukraine’s military spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko, said in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

“We are very grateful to the Mariupol residents, who have also helped in the fortification of the city against the armored vehicles of the enemy,” Colonel Lysenko said. The city fell briefly under the control of pro-Russian fighters earlier this year, but after they were driven out it had been firmly in the hands of Ukraine. The governor of the Donetsk region, forced from his headquarters in the city of Donetsk, decamped there to maintain a formal, if largely impotent, government presence.

Colonel Lysenko said that local residents were volunteering to join the armed forces, but that the military had enough men there “to repel the Russian military and its mercenaries.”

He repeated accusations that the Russians were sending arms and men across the border to support rebel fighters, who have declared independent states in Donetsk and Luhansk. He asserted that Russian tanks had entered Novosvitlivka, a small town on the road from the Russian border to Luhansk, and flattened “virtually every house.” He did not give details on when the reported attack took place.

Ukraine also accused Russia on Saturday of helping to shoot down one of its combat aircraft in eastern Ukraine.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, speaking early Sunday in Brussels, described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply serious” and said, “We have to show real resolve, real resilience in demonstrating to Russia that if she carries on in this way the relationship between Europe and Russia, Britain and Russia, America and Russia will be radically different in future.”

Andrew Higgins reported from Brussels, and Neil MacFarquhar from Moscow. James Kanter contributed reporting from Brussels, and Rick Lyman from Warsaw.


The New York Times.

#Putin Calls for Talks on East #Ukraine ‘Statehood'; #Kremlin Denies Endorsing Independence


 By Ukrainian border guards patrol near the small Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk, Donetsk Oblast on the border with Russia. © AFPUkrainian border guards patrol near the small Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk, Donetsk Oblast on the border with Russia. © AFP

MOSCOW/MARIUPOL Ukraine (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, although his spokesman said this did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory they have seized.

The Kremlin leader’s remarks, which follow a feisty public appearance in which he compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”, came with Europe and the United States preparing new sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops and local residents were reinforcing the port of Mariupol on Sunday, the next big city in the path of pro-Russian fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea this past week in an offensive on a new front.

Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other’s territory near the battlefield, where Kiev says Moscow’s forces have come to the aid of pro-Russian insurgents, tipping the balance on the battlefield in the rebels’ favour.

Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organisation of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine,” Putin said in an interview with Channel 1 state television, his hair tousled by wind on the shore of a lake.

Moscow, for its part, he said, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.

Putin’s use of the word “statehood” was interpreted in Western media as implying backing for the rebel demand of independence, something Moscow has so far stopped short of publicly endorsing.

However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebel independence. Asked if “New Russia”, a term pro-Moscow rebels use for their territory, should still be part of Ukraine, Peskov said: “Of course.”

“Only Ukraine can reach an agreement with New Russia, taking into account the interests of New Russia, and this is the only way to reach a political settlement.”

Rebels have rallied behind the term “New Russia” since Putin first used it in a public appearance in April. Putin called it a tsarist-era term for land that now forms southern and eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians consider the term deeply offensive and say it reveals Moscow’s imperial designs on their territory.

Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. Kiev says it is willing to have talks on more rights for the south and east, but will not talk directly to armed fighters it describes as “international terrorists” and Russian puppets that can only be reined in by Moscow.

The deputy leader of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Prugin, said he was due to participate in talks in the Belarus capital Minsk on Monday. Past talks by a so-called “contact group” involving Moscow, Kiev and rebels have covered technical issues like access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in July, but not political questions.

NEW ADVANCE

The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the path of a new rebel advance, drawing concern from Ukraine’s Western allies, who say armoured columns of Russian troops came to the aid of a rebellion that would otherwise have been near collapse.

European Union leaders agreed on Saturday to draw up new economic sanctions against Moscow, a move hailed by the United States, which is planning tighter sanctions of its own and wants to act jointly with Europe.

Some residents of Mariupol have taken to the streets of the port to show support for the Ukrainian government as pro-Russian forces gain ground. Many others have fled from the prospect of an all-out assault on the city of nearly 500,000 people.

“We are proud to be from this city and we are ready to defend it from the occupiers,” said Alexandra, 28, a post office clerk wearing a ribbon in blue and yellow Ukrainian colours.

“We will dig trenches. We will throw petrol bombs at them, the occupiers,” she said. “I believe our army and our (volunteer) battalions will protect us.”

Ihor, 42, and his wife Lena, 40, were packing their car to flee with their five-year-old daughter. They had sheltered in Mariupol after battle came to their home city Donetsk in July.

“We will not wait for another repetition of war. We did nothing to provoke it and we do not want to be a part of it,” said Lena.

TROOP SWAP

The swap of soldiers overnight at the frontier was a rare gesture to ease tension, but Kiev and Moscow have given starkly opposing accounts of how their troops came to be on each other’s territory. A Russian paratroop commander said an unspecified number of Russian paratroops were swapped for 63 Ukrainian soldiers. Kiev said the Russian soldiers numbered nine.

Kiev and its allies in Europe and the United States say the new rebel offensive has been backed by more than 1,000 Russian troops fighting openly to support the insurgents. The rebels themselves say thousands of Russian troops have fought on their behalf while “on leave”.

Reuters journalists on the Russian side of the border have seen Russian troops showing signs of having returned from battle, with their insignia removed or rubbed out.

Despite the evidence, Moscow denies its troops are fighting in Ukraine and says a small party of soldiers crossed the border by accident. Russian Major-General Alexei Ragozin said the paratroops were handed back after “very difficult” negotiations.

“I consider it unacceptable that our servicemen were detained by the Ukrainian side for so many days. Our lads are upset about everything that happened. They will all receive the necessary psychological and other kinds of help. The lads will all be OK.”

Ragozin said Russia, by contrast, had promptly returned hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who at various times have crossed the border when squeezed by rebel forces. He said the latest group of 63 had entered Russia on Wednesday.

Kiev has in the past said some of its soldiers crossed into Russia to escape from fighting on the Ukrainian side of the frontier, behaviour that contrasts with that of the Russians it says crossed the border to wage war in Ukraine. Ukraine’s military spokesman has mocked the idea that the Russians had “got lost like Little Red Riding Hood in the forest”.

SANCTIONS

The United States and European Union have gradually tightened economic sanctions against Russia, first imposed after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March following the ousting of Kiev’s pro-Russian president by protesters.

So far, however, the measures have done little to deter Putin, who gave a typically defiant public appearance on Friday in which he described Russians and Ukrainians as “practically one people” and compared Kiev’s attempts to recapture rebellious cities with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

Russia is a strong nuclear power, and foreigners should understand that “it’s best not to mess with us”, he said.

Moscow has responded to sanctions by banning the import of most Western foodstuffs, stripping French cheese and Polish apples from store shelves and shutting down McDonalds restaurants. The moves reinforce a sense among Russians that they are isolated from a hostile world, as in Cold War days.

Agreeing the Western sanctions has been tricky, not least because the 28-member European Union must take decisions by consensus and many of its countries depend on Russian energy resources.

Nevertheless, the EU has gone further than many had predicted, agreeing to impose sanctions on Russia’s financial and oil industries last month after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel territory, killing nearly 300 people, most of them Dutch.

EU leaders agreed on Saturday to ask the executive European Commission to draw up more sanctions measures, which could be adopted in coming days.

The White House praised the move to “show strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. But in a sign of the difficulty in achieving an EU consensus, the leader of tiny Slovakia said sanctions had failed so far and threatened to veto any new ones that damaged his country’s national interest.

(Additional reporting by Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Vladimir Soldatkin in Chelyabinsk, Russia and Mark Trevelyan in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich).


The New York Times.