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Ukraine: Russian military troops have been 'deployed to the east of country' amid fighting

By Heather Saul

The Ukrainian President says Russian military troops have been deployed to the east of country, as it emerged thousands of Russian citizens and soldiers are reportedly fighting in Ukraine.

Petro Poroshenko called an urgent meeting of the Ukrainian security and defence council to decide the country's next steps.

"I made the decision to cancel a working visit to the Republic of Turkey in connection with the rapidly deteriorating situation in Donetsk region, in particular in Amvrosiyivka and Starobesheve, as Russian troops were actually brought into Ukraine" he said.

A member of President Vladimir Putin's advisory council on human rights, Ella Polyakova, said on Thursday she believed Russia was carrying out an invasion of Ukraine.

"When masses of people, under commanders' orders, on tanks, APCs and with the use of heavy weapons, (are) on the territory of another country, cross the border, I consider this an invasion," she said.

Mr Poroshenko's statement came as the pro-Russian separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko claimed former and serving Russian soldiers on leave from their posts are fighting Ukrainian troops alongside the rebels.

The rebel leader told Russian state television station: "Among us are fighting serving soldiers, who would rather take their vacation not on a beach but with us, among brothers, who are fighting for their freedom."

He estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 Russians have joined fighting, but insisted they did so voluntarily and not on Moscow's orders.

He spoke as pro-Russian separatists seized the south-eastern resort town of Novoazovsk on the Azov Sea, threatening the key port of Mariupol.

Novoazovsk lies along the road linking Russia to Mariupol and on to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March. The town escaped most of fighting since the conflict began but has been under heavy shelling for three days.

The country's security and defence council said "a counter-offensive by Russian troops and separatist units is continuing in south-east Ukraine."

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of crossing the border into Ukraine and supporting rebels, an accusation Moscow has consistently denied.

The US government has also accused Russia of orchestrating a new military campaign in Ukraine that is helping rebel forces expand their fight and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles.

Earlier, the the German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned the Russian President Vladimir Putin to demand an explanation on claims Russian troops have launched an incursion into Ukrainian territory.

French President Francois Hollande warned it would be "intolerable and unacceptable" if Russian troops are shown to have entered Ukrainian territory.

"Europe will maintain (sanctions), even increase them if the escalation increases. I don't want it because it is neither in Russia's nor our interest," Mr Hollande told an annual conference of French diplomats in Paris on Thursday.

Source: Independent

Further reading

Talks as 'Russian force in Ukraine'

EU leaders to debate Ukraine crisis

Russians push along Ukraine coast

Downsized Nato 'can't fight Russia'

Weapons from Russia in Ukraine


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