Russian troops entered Ukraine 'accidentally' on patrol
Russia's government was forced to admit for the first time that regular troops had entered Ukraine yesterday, in a dramatic incident that appeared to confirm Kiev's accusations of direct Russian involvement in the civil war in the east of the country.
Ten Russian paratroopers who were captured in Ukraine on Monday crossed the border "accidentally" during a routine frontier patrol, Russia's ministry of defence claimed.
The admission came as Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, met face-to-face for the first time since June, and overshadowed talks which some had hoped would hasten an end to the conflict.
Ukraine's security service, the SBU, said yesterday that the men were captured near the village of Dzerkalne, about 13 miles from the border with Russia and 25 miles south-east of Donetsk, the besieged stronghold of pro-Russian rebels.
In its first public admission that regular Russian forces had crossed into Ukraine, a defence ministry official said that the troops had made a "mistake" because of the poorly marked border.
"These servicemen really did take part in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossing it likely by mistake at an unequipped and unmarked point," a defence ministry source said.
Hours later, Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko shook hands alongside the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan, which recently joined Russia in a customs union designed to rival the European Union, at a summit in the Belarussian capital, Minsk. They were also joined by the EU's foreign policy chief, Baroness Ashton.
A one-on-one meeting between the two presidents finally began late yesterday, but it was not clear what would emerge.
Speaking beforehand, Mr Poroshenko, a pro-Western chocolate manufacturer who turned to politics, said that "the fate of peace and the fate of Europe are being decided in Minsk today".
Mr Putin mostly spoke on economic matters in his opening remarks, upbraiding Ukraine for not joining the customs union. But he also said the war "could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario".
Russia has previously vigorously denied that its troops have crossed into Ukraine, despite repeated accusations from the Ukrainian and Western governments that it is providing men and materiel to the pro-Russian separatists. On Monday, the Ukrainian military said it repelled a cross-border attack involving 10 tanks, two infantry fighting vehicles and two military trucks near the Sea of Azov.
Ukraine described the attack, of which Moscow denied knowledge, as an attempt to open a "second front" in a southern part of Donetsk that was previously relatively undisturbed.
Fighting continued around the coastal town of Novoazovsk yesterday, with correspondents reporting heavy shelling and a pall of black smoke after fields caught fire.
Russian media published photographs of the graves of two young men in Pskov, Russia, who were widely reported to have been paratroopers who died fighting in Ukraine.
The names of the dead men and some of those who were captured match social networking pages of young soldiers with the same names. (© Daily Telegraph, London)