Russian soldiers dead in Ukraine as UN holds crisis talks
At least 100 Russian soldiers have been killed in battle inside Ukraine, it was claimed yesterday, as Nato accused the Kremlin of pouring tanks, artillery guns and more than 1,000 troops into the east of the country.
Two members of Russia's presidential human rights commission said that 100 servicemen died and 300 were injured in fighting with Ukrainian forces near Snizhnye, a fiercely-contested town in the Donetsk region.
The report emerged as the war in Ukraine lurched into a dangerous new phase, with Moscow prompting international condemnation by launching a new incursion into its neighbour in support of pro-Russian separatists.
This caused an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council last night and forced Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's president, to cancel a trip to Turkey.
He said that Russian troops had "actually been brought into Ukraine" and the world should "respond to a sharp deterioration of the situation".
The US said it was considering a range of possible responses, including increased sanctions. Samantha Power, the Irish-born US ambassador to the UN, told the meeting that Russia "has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied".
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama said last night that "ongoing incursions" into Ukraine by Russia would only lead to additional costs for Moscow.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, said there had been a "direct invasion" from Russia along the coast of the Sea of Azov in southern Ukraine. Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, responded that Kiev was "waging war against its own people".
The council announced that conscription, abandoned last year, would be reintroduced this autumn in response to the crisis.
Ella Polyakova and Sergei Krivenko, who work for a quasi-independent Russian human rights body which advises Vladimir Putin, claimed that 100 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine, citing eyewitness accounts and relations of the dead for an incident on August 13.
They said the large number of casualties was caused by a column of trucks carrying ammunition being hit by a volley of Grad rockets. Nato said yesterday that at least 1,000 Russian troops had poured into eastern Ukraine, as it released new satellite photographs of the build-up of armour and artillery on both sides of the border.
Moscow faced a growing international backlash over the reports which came two days after Mr Putin promised regional leaders meeting in Minsk, Belarus, that Russia was playing no part in Ukraine's "internal conflict". In a statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "simply not enough to engage in talks in Minsk, while Russian tanks continue to roll over the border into Ukraine".
If Russia did not "pursue a different path" there would be "further consequences", he said.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Kiev, wrote on Twitter: "Russian-supplied tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and multiple rocket launchers have been insufficient to defeat Ukraine armed forces. So now an increasing number of Russian troops are intervening directly in fighting on Ukrainian territory."
Russia continued to deny involvement in the crisis, with a defence ministry spokesman describing reports of Russian troops in Ukraine as a "canard".
Andrey Kelin, Russia's representative to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the only Russian servicemen on Ukrainian territory were 10 paratroopers taken captive when they crossed the border "by accident" on Monday. Kiev has said those men were sent on a "special mission".
Despite the Kremlin's denial of support for the separatists, yesterday Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told a Moscow television station that they had been joined by 3,000 to 4,000 fighters from Russia, many of whom were soldiers who were "on holiday".
"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," said Mr Zakharchenko. (© Daily Telegraph, London)