NATO, U.S.: 1,000 Russian Troops Have Entered Ukraine to Aid Rebels (Video Update)
According to NATO Brig. Gen. Niko Tak, as well as U.S. and Ukrainian officials, more than 1,000 Russian troops have crossed the border into Ukraine to shore up pro-Russian rebels in their fight against government forces.
NATO officials pointed to satellite footage (see image) taken Aug. 21 that they claim shows Russian self-propelled artillery in southern Ukraine, the BBC reported Thursday.
This account was echoed by Ukrainian army officer Mykhailo Lysenko, who declared that “a full-scale invasion” was playing out in his country, according to CNN:
NATO provided what it said is evidence: satellite images showing Russian troops engaged in military operations inside Ukraine.
“The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action by establishing firing positions in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine,” NATO said in a news release.
Commercial satellite imagery shows the same, according to a British security source with detailed knowledge of UK intelligence estimates. One image that British intelligence has analyzed, dated Tuesday, shows 15 heavy trucks, at least seven armored vehicles and at least nine artillery positions.
Russia’s military actions in eastern Ukraine “must cease immediately,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said Thursday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko supported this assessment, as did a U.S. official cited in CNN’s report, and Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin took to Twitter to broadcast the message using the hashtag #RussiaInvadedUkraine.
However, there isn’t widespread agreement about what to call the latest purported escalation — some are stopping short of “war” by using terms like “incursion.”
The Kremlin, thus far, is clear on its version of events; Russia’s Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told the BBC onThursday that NATO has “never produced a single piece of evidence” to substantiate its accusations, and that there are just 10 soldiers on the ground in eastern Ukraine “who have wandered into Ukrainian territory by mistake.”
An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council was convened that afternoon. The European Council was set to meet Saturday, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that further possible sanctions against Russia would be on the table for discussion.
The Los Angeles Times reported early Thursday afternoon that “Russian tanks and troops fired their way into eastern Ukraine” and took control of a “strategic gateway town on the road to the heavily militarized Crimean peninsula that Moscow annexed in March,” according to NATO and Ukrainian officials:
The Western military alliance evidence was bolstered by a pro-Russia separatist leader who told Russian state television that at least 3,000 Russian gunmen, many of them retired military or active-duty Kremlin troops on leave, have been fighting alongside the Ukrainian separatists since their uprising began five months ago.
“They are fighting with us, understanding that it is their duty,” said Alexander Zakharchenko, the self-styled leader of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, undermining Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Russia has no role in the Ukrainian conflict.
Chizhov addressed Zakharchenko’s statement in his BBC interview, pointing out that retired Russian military troops and others contributing to the separatists’ cause were not the same as “Russian soldiers” taking up arms in this conflict.
Update: President Obama made a statement at the White House on Thursday afternoon, also carefully choosing his wording and pronouncing the situation “a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now”:
–Posted by Kasia Anderson