Russian combat troops backed by tanks, artillery, and air defence systems have crossed into separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine since the beginning of the week, Nato's supreme commander in Europe said yesterday.
The comments from Phillip Breedlove, Nato's supreme commander in Europe, came as Ukraine demanded an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council and ordered its army to prepare for combat in anticipation of a renewed separatist offensive.
"Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) is reporting. We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine," General Breedlove said.
"We do not have a good picture at this time of how many. We agree that there are multiple columns that we have seen," he said.
The comments follow a rapid escalation of violence that has raised fears of a return to the all-out war that was meant to end with a ceasefire deal signed in September.
Russia immediately denied the allegations, saying "there was and is no evidence" of Russian troops crossing the border.
"We have stopped paying attention to unfounded statements by Nato's Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove about his 'seeing' Russian military columns that are allegedly invading Ukraine," Igor Konashenkov, a defence ministry spokesman, told Russian news agencies.
Kiev's foreign minister said he would seek an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council over the news, which has brought Russia and Ukraine to the brink of war.
"The intensity of crossing the border, the number of weapons crossing, has changed [in recent days]," said Dmytro Kuleba, a Ukrainian diplomat. "The region is now packed full with Russian heavy armour. New evidence of the Russian troop presence will be presented tonight."
"The main task I see is to prepare for combat operations," Stepan Poltorak, the Ukrainian defence minister, said. "We observe their movements, we know where they are, and we expect unpredictable actions from them," Mr Poltorak said yesterday. Ukraine and the rebels are both nominally bound by a shaky ceasefire signed in Minsk on September 5.
(© Daily Telegraph London)