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. 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.