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Nato says 'over 1,000 Russian troops' in Ukraine, Russia denies presence of any troops

Published on Aug 28, 2014 8:36 PM

MONS, Belgium (AFP) - A senior Nato official said on Thursday that "well over a thousand" Russian troops were operating inside Ukraine. The officer, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, referred to the Russian actions as “incursions” rather than an invasion. “We assess well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine,” he said at Nato’s military headquarters in southern Belgium. “They are supporting separatists (and) fighting with them.” Ukraine accused Russia on Thursday of bringing troops into the south-east of the country in support of pro-Moscow separatist rebels.

The Nato officer showed reporters a satellite picture, dated Aug 23, of Russian self-propelled artillery lined up inside eastern Ukraine. “This is highly sophisticated equipment which requires a well-trained crew. It takes months to train crews like that. It’s extremely unlikely these sorts of units are manned by separatists,” he said. “Russia is trying to prevent a defeat of the separatists and wants to hold on to this area. The recent upsurge and now even direct involvement of Russian troops inside Ukraine is aimed at this.”

However, Moscow's envoy to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe denied on Thursday that any Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine, after his Ukrainian counterpart accused Moscow of a "direct invasion" of its territory. "There are no Russian soldiers" in eastern Ukraine, Mr Andrey Kelin told journalists, following an emergency meeting of the European security body to discuss developments in Ukraine.

Washington and Kiev said Thursday that Russian troops were actively involved in the fighting tearing apart eastern Ukraine, raising fears of a direct military confrontation on Europe's eastern flank. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko scrapped a trip to Turkey and called an urgent meeting of his security chiefs over what a top official described as a "direct invasion" by Russia.

A group of Russian servicemen, who are detained by Ukrainian authorities, attend a news conference in Kiev on Aug 27, 2014. A senior Nato official said on Thursday, Aug 28, that "well over a thousand" Russian troops were operating inside Ukraine. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
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