DONETSK (REUTERS) - A Reuters witness saw columns of military vehicles including tanks early Tuesday (Feb 22) on the outskirts of Donetsk, the capital of one of two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised them as independent states.
The Reuters reporter saw about five tanks in a column on the edge of the city and two more in another part of town.
No insignia were visible, but the appearance of the tanks came hours after Mr Putin signed friendship treaties with the two separatist regions and ordered Russian troops to deploy on what Moscow called a peacekeeping operation.
Reuters reporters in Donetsk had not seen tanks on the streets in previous days.
“You can conclude that the invasion of Ukraine has begun,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.
“The Russians, President Putin, has decided to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.” “We will be introducing sanctions as we said we always will,” he said.
Ukraine’s military said on its Facebook page it had recorded 84 cases of shelling by separatists who it said had opened fire on about 40 settlements along the front line with heavy artillery, in breach of ceasefire agreements.
Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbour, but it has amassed troops on Ukraine’s borders and threatened“military-technical” action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join Nato.
A senior US official said the deployment of Russian troops to the breakaway enclaves did not merit the harshest sanctions the United States and its allies had prepared in the event of a full-scale invasion, as Russia already had troops there.
Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions – collectively known as the Donbass – broke away from Ukrainian government control in 2014 and proclaimed themselves independent “people’s republics”.