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Russian military equipment and combat troops entered Ukraine this week, NATO top commander has said.
“Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops” were sighted, General Philip Breedlove said.
Russia’s defense ministry denied that its troops were in eastern Ukraine to help pro-Russian separatists there.
However, the rebels have admitted being helped by “volunteers” from Russia.
The UN Security Council is convening an emergency session later on November 12 to discuss the reported sightings.
Russian military equipment and combat troops entered Ukraine
Heavy artillery fire rocked the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the industrial hub held by pro-Russian separatist rebels, on Wednesday morning.
It was unclear whether the fire came from besieging government forces or the rebels themselves, or both.
There were also reports of fighting near the rebel-held city of Luhansk. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and another injured north of Luhansk, when rebels fired on government positions near the village of Schastya, Ukrainian security forces said.
Back in August, NATO was warning about the deployment of Russian artillery batteries inside Ukraine, the supply of Russian military equipment to the rebel forces and the build-up of further Russian combat units at the Ukrainian frontier.
Since then many of these units have been withdrawn.
Now with tensions renewed, Nato’s Supreme Commander in Europe General Philip Breedlove has confirmed that over the past two days, NATO has seen columns of Russian armor, artillery and crucially – combat troops – entering Ukraine.
The question now is whether this is just a re-run of events in the summer or does a more significant clash beckon, perhaps one where the Kremlin may decide – in its terms – to teach the Ukrainians a military lesson.
Gen. Philip Breedlove also confirmed that NATO believes Russia is deploying nuclear-capable weapons to Crimea – a reference to reports that Russia is deploying short-range Iskander ballistic missiles there that could potentially be equipped with nuclear warheads.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered thousands of Russian troops stationed near the Ukrainian border to return to their bases, Russian media report.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said about 17,600 soldiers on training exercises in the Rostov region would be pulled back.
Russia has previously announced troop withdrawals that NATO and the US say were not actually carried out.
It has been accused of supplying troops and weapons to separatist rebels in east Ukraine – claims it denies.
The latest order comes ahead of a planned meeting between Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday, October 17.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting pro-Russia rebels in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since April, in a conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people.
The two sides agreed a truce on September 5, but fighting has continued, especially in and around Donetsk.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops stationed near the Ukrainian border to return to their bases (photo Reuters)
“[Vladimir] Putin has ordered to start the returning of troops to regular station,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in quotes carried by Interfax and Ria Novosti news agencies.
Dmitry Peskov said this was because the period of training was completed.
Vladimir Putin made similar statements about withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border in March and May.
However, NATO and US officials said they saw no evidence of soldiers being moved.
Correspondents say the deployment of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border is seen as a powerful tool designed to threaten the government in Kiev.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko are expected to meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in Italy on October 17.
President Petro Poroshenko told reporters: “I don’t expect the talks will be easy.”
“Russia’s role in the issue of providing peace… is difficult to overestimate,” he added.
Petro Poroshenko said he also hoped to discuss Russia and Ukraine’s gas pricing dispute.
Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in June, saying the Kiev government had not settled its debts.
Ukraine could face gas shortages in the winter if the dispute is not resolved.
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukraine’s border, the Kremlin says.
Units in the Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions should return to their permanent bases, a statement said.
Russia has made a similar statements in the past, only for NATO to report no change.
Vladimir Putin has ordered the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukraine’s border
Correspondents say the removal of some 40,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border could help de-escalate the Ukraine crisis.
The apparent build-up of Russian forces in the region has ratcheted up diplomatic tensions in recent weeks.
“In connection with the completion of the planned spring phase of military training… at ranges in Rostov, Belgorod and Bryansk regions, Putin ordered the defense minister to withdraw the troops that took part in the exercises,” the Kremlin statement provided to Russian news agencies said.
Tensions between Russia and the West rose after the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, following months of street protests.
Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea triggered a crisis in relations.
Meanwhile, clashes have taken place between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatist militants in eastern Ukraine.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and one was injured on Monday in attack by separatists on a checkpoint near Sloviansk, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine’s Interfax news agency quoted the country’s defense ministry as saying.
On Saturday, the separatists appointed a prime minister for what they call the People’s Republic of Donetsk.
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Ukraine’s government has released photos that it says show Russian soldiers among militants holding official buildings in eastern region of the country.
Handed to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) last week, the photos have since been distributed by the US state department.
They are said to show Russian soldiers or paramilitaries in flashpoint towns in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
Russia denies it has military units on the ground in Donetsk.
Pro-Russian militants are holding official buildings in towns and cities in the east.
According to the Ukrainian press release, the photos show the same bearded gunman taking part in militant operations in the Donetsk towns of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk this year, and in operations in Georgia in 2008.
The US State Department has released photos purportedly showing the same bearded Russian soldier in operations in Georgia in 2008 and Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Ukraine in 2014
However, in the 2014 photos, his greying beard appears to be black while in Georgia six years ago, the slimmer-looking man shown has a reddish beard.
Other unverified photos are said to show the same masked gunman in both Donetsk and Crimea, the Ukrainian region annexed last month by Russia.
The Ukrainian press release argues that the photos are proof of a Russian special forces unit operating in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s permanent representative to the International Organizations in Vienna said the photos provided “growing evidence of Russia’s involvement in instigating and co-ordinating the separatist actions that destabilise the situation in the east of Ukraine”.
US state department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said there was “broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine”.
“The photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this,” she said, adding that it was a “pivotal period” for Russia to “use their influence to de-escalate the situation in Eastern Ukraine”.
Russia has previously denied it is destabilizing Ukraine, and warned the authorities in Kiev against any use of force against pro-Russian demonstrators.
“There are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine,” President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
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Russian troops backed by armoured vehicles stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.
Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.
Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.
Pro-Russian militia have also been seizing Ukrainian navy ships.
Ukrainian troops in Crimea feel beleaguered and abandoned by their commanders in Ukraine.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law formalising Russia’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine, despite fresh sanctions from the EU and the US.
In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.
At least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol
An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person had been injured.
The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.
The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.
The Belbek base commander earlier told the few dozen troops still there to shoot in the air if they were attacked.
Ukraine’s military chiefs deny this, saying each unit in Crimea has been issued with clear orders on what to do if attacked.
In Novofedorivka, attackers threw smoke bombs at the base.
Pro-Russian militia – backed by Russian forces – have already seized a number of Ukrainian bases in the southern peninsula.
Russian troops have taken over control of Crimea following last month’s overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after mass street protests.
The Kremlin says it acted to protect its “compatriots” in Crimea from “fascists” moving in from the mainland Ukraine.
Kiev denies the claim, accusing Moscow of “blatant lies” to justify the land grab.
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More than 8,000 Russian troops have begun military exercises close to the border with Ukraine.
Russian defense ministry confirmed that artillery such as rocket launchers and anti-tank weapons would also be involved in the exercises.
They come at a time of high tension ahead of Crimea’s referendum on Sunday on whether to join Russia.
Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has told the UN Security Council his country is a victim of Russian aggression.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk said it was “absolutely and entirely unacceptable, in the 21st Century, to resolve any kind of conflict with tanks artillery and boots on the ground”, in reference to Russian troops at key sites in Crimea.
Meanwhile, reports from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk say at least one person has been killed and several wounded in clashes between hundreds of pro- and anti-Moscow demonstrators.
More than 8,000 Russian troops have begun military exercises close to the border with Ukraine
Russia confirmed that military exercises had begun in the regions of Rostov, Belgorod and Kursk, which are close to the border of Ukraine, and would continue until the end of March.
“The main aim… is a multi-faceted check of the units’ cohesiveness followed by the performance of battle training assignments in unfamiliar terrain and untested firing ranges,” the Russian defense ministry said.
In a sign the tension may be spreading, Belarus – a Russian ally – confirmed Moscow had deployed, at its request, extra fighter jets and military transport aircraft after Nato boosted its forces in the neighboring Baltic countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of his Security Council that this was an inter-Ukrainian crisis that “arose not through our fault, but we are involved in it, one way or another”.
He said he wanted to discuss how to “build relations with our partners and friends in Ukraine and our other partners in Europe and the United States”.
Separately, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said Russia had now given its support to a possible long-term monitoring mission in Ukraine.
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Russia says it has test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile, as tension continues over Ukraine’s Crimea region.
A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan, it said.
It comes after the US accused Russia of an “act of aggression” in Crimea.
The US said it was given advance notice of the missile launch, as required by bilateral arms treaties.
The Topol was fired at 22:10 local time, the defense ministry in Moscow said, adding: “The aim of the launch was to test a promising intercontinental ballistic missile payload.”
A Topol RS-12M missile was launched from Russia’s Kapustin Yar test range near the Caspian Sea to the Sary Shagan range in Kazakhstan
The nuclear-capable missile reached its target successfully, it said.
Tests of the missile, one of Russia’s newest, are not unusual but the timing of the launch if confirmed, is likely to alarm observers of the crisis with Ukraine.
Moscow is in de facto control of the Crimean peninsula after troops thought to be Russian or pro-Russian took control of strategic points in recent days.
Troops are surrounding Ukrainian military bases and other installations, while two Ukrainian warships are reported to be blocked by a Russian ship in the port of Sevastopol.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied the troops are Russian, saying they are “local self-defense forces” loyal to Moscow, protecting the bases from “nationalists” and “anti-Semites”.
Vladimir Putin said Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as Ukraine’s president in late February after months of protest, remained the legitimate leader, though he admitted that he had “no political future”.
Kiev and the West have accused Russia of mounting an invasion of Crimea, which has a majority Russian-speaking population.
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President Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, but he has not ruled out doing so.
Russia reserves the right to use “all means” to protect citizens in Ukraine, he told a news conference.
Russian and Ukrainian troops in Crimea are involved in a tense stand-off.
Vladimir Putin called the toppling of Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in the capital Kiev an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power”.
The Russian president said “militants” had plunged the country into “chaos”. He also said Ukrainian “nationalists” and “anti-Semites” were roaming the streets of Kiev and other cities.
Vladimir Putin says there is no need yet to send Russian troops into Ukraine, but he has not ruled out doing so
If Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine asked for Russia’s help then Moscow would respond, he said.
In Crimea pro-Russian armed men and civilians are surrounding Ukrainian military bases – not Russian soldiers, he said.
Viktor Yanukovych had agreed to all that the opposition wanted, Vladimir Putin said.
Vladimir Putin insisted that Viktor Yanukovych was still the legitimate president.
There were only three legal means to remove a president, he said: death, personal resignation or impeachment.
Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, and Vladimir Putin told the news conference: “I don’t think he has a political future.”
Russia had helped Viktor Yanukovych for “humanitarian” reasons, Vladimir Putin said, “otherwise he’d just have been killed”.
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Russia has taken de facto armed control in Ukraine’s Crimea region, despite Western demands that it withdraw.
Thousands of Russian troops are securing the region and further armor and ship movements have been reported.
Ukraine has ordered full mobilization, issuing call-up papers and asking for more international support.
Russia says it is protecting its interests and those of Russian-speakers in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine following the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych last month.
The crisis hit Russian stock markets on Monday, with Moscow’s main MICEX index dropping 9% in early trading. The rouble fell to a fresh all-time low against the US dollar and Russia’s central bank raised its key lending rate to 7% from 5.5%.
Russia has taken de facto armed control in Ukraine’s Crimea region
Thousands of newly arrived Russian elite troops far outnumber Ukraine’s military presence with roadblocks cutting off Crimea.
Ukrainian border guards have reported a build-up of armored vehicles on the Russian side of the sea channel dividing Russia and Crimea.
Pro-Russian troops have taken over the ferry terminal in far-eastern Crimea that operates services to Russia.
There have also been further movements of Russian ships in the Black Sea – Sevastopol is the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
Some mobile phone services are reported to be blocked.
Ukrainian navy commanders on Monday confirmed their loyalty to Ukraine, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported, despite an attempt by pro-Russian personnel to enter the navy HQ in Simferopol and force them to switch allegiance.
Ukraine’s interim government has called for more international support to force Russian troops to leave.
While Kiev hopes to resolve this crisis through dialogue, it is now mobilizing its military forces.
Men across Ukraine have been receiving call-up papers and will start reporting for 10 days training from Monday.
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Ukraine is calling up military reservists following Russia’s decision to deploy troops in Crimea.
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov had already ordered increased security at key sites, including nuclear plants.
Meanwhile President Barack Obama has called the Russian decision a “violation of Ukrainian sovereignty”.
Heavily armed groups continue to occupy key sites in Crimea, including airports and communications hubs
Ukraine has said it will seek the help of US and UK leaders in guaranteeing its security. NATO has called emergency talks to be held on Sunday at 12:00 GMT.
The new Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has warned that military action by Moscow would be “the beginning of war and the end of relations”.
Heavily armed groups continue to occupy key sites in Crimea, including airports and communications hubs, although there has been no actual violence.
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President Vladimir Putin’s request for Russian forces to be used in Ukraine has been approved by the upper house of parliament.
Vladimir Putin had asked that Russian forces be used “until the normalization of the political situation in the country”.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where many ethnic Russians live.
Kiev has reacted angrily to days of military movements in Crimea, accusing Moscow of trying to provoke the new government into an armed conflict.
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has called an emergency session of his security chiefs.
Vladimir Putin submitted the request for troops “in connection with the extraordinary situation in Ukraine and the threat to the lives of Russian citizens”, the Kremlin said.
The upper house went into a special session almost immediately after Vladimir Putin made the request, in what seems to have been a carefully co-ordinated series of events during the day
Earlier, the lower house of parliament had urged the president to take whatever measures were necessary to “stabilize” the situation in Crimea.
Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved Vladimir Putin’s request for Russian troops deployment in Ukraine
During the upper house debate, one legislator accused President Barack Obama of crossing “a red line” with his comments that there would be costs if Russia intervened militarily in Ukraine.
The upper house has recommended that the Russian ambassador the US should be recalled, although the decision lies with Vladimir Putin.
The request follow days of military activity in Crimea during which unidentified armed men moved in to take over the regional parliament, state television and telecommunications hubs.
Soldiers from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Crimea, are reported to be guarding some administrative buildings and military bases.
Amid the closure of airspace over Crimea’s regional capital Simferopol on Friday evening, there were unconfirmed reports that Russian planes were flying in thousands of troops.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh said on Saturday there are now an extra 6,000 Russian troops in Crimea, alongside an additional 30 armored vehicles.
Under the agreement governing the presence of the fleet in Crimea, the Russians must co-ordinate all troop movements outside the fleet’s base with the Ukrainian authorities beforehand.
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