NATO Military Officer: More Than 1,000 Russian Troops Operating Inside Ukraine

08/28/2014 08:52 am ET | Updated Aug 28, 2014

MONS, Belgium, Aug 28 (Reuters) - NATO believes well over 1,000 Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine, a NATO military officer said on Thursday.

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 southeast 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," the official said. (Reporting by Adrian Croft, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

09/06/2014 6:08 PM EDT

Factory Ablaze After Artillery Fire Near Mariupol

Reuters reports:

Prolonged artillery fire was heard late on Saturday to the east of the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters reporter said, in what may be the first significant violation of a ceasefire declared little more than 24 hours earlier.

The reporter saw an industrial facility, a truck and a gas station ablaze in an area within the limits of Mariupol, a city of 500,000 people on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border.

The area had seen fierce fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists before the ceasefire took effect on Friday evening. It had been quiet since then until the artillery fire began late on Saturday.

"There has been an artillery attack. We received a number of impacts, we have no information about casualties," a Ukrainian officer told Reuters at the scene.

09/06/2014 6:03 PM EDT

Ukraine Battalion: Reports Of Civilian Casualties In Shelling

09/06/2014 6:00 PM EDT

#RussiaViolatedCeasefire Trends On Twitter

Twitter users are using the hashtag #RussiaViolatedCeasefire to blame Moscow for renewed violence in east Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian Ambassador to Sweden Eitvydas Bajarunas used the hashtag for call for more information, as rockets and shelling were reported in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

09/06/2014 5:43 PM EDT

Rockets Fired In Ukraine Amid Ceasefire

The Associated Press reports:

Witnesses in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol are reporting sustained explosions outside the city and a volunteer battalion of Ukrainian fighters says Grad rockets are being fired at its positions.

The reports Saturday night come little more than a day after Ukraine and Russian-backed separatist rebels signed a cease-fire after more than four months of fighting in the country's east.

The cease-fire had appeared to largely been holding during much of the day.

But late Saturday, witnesses in Mariupol told The Associated Press by telephone that heavy explosions were coming from the city's eastern outskirts, where Ukrainian troops retain defensive lines against the rebels.

The volunteer Azov Battalion said on Facebook that their positions were hit by Grad rockets, but did not give details.

09/06/2014 4:49 PM EDT

Reports Of Shelling In Mariupol

BBC journalists Fergal Keane and Will Vernon in Ukraine's Mariupol say that shelling of the port city has resumed.

09/06/2014 12:21 PM EDT

ICRC Says Aid Trucks Forced Back By Shelling

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its aid trucks were forced to turn back on Saturday morning due to shelling in east Ukraine.

09/06/2014 10:59 AM EDT

Putin, Poroshenko Agree Cease-Fire Holding

Reuters reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko agreed on Saturday in a telephone call that a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was generally holding but said further steps were needed to make it more durable.

The ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists took effect on Friday evening, part of a wider peace plan aimed at ending five months of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

"(The two leaders) also stressed the need for the maximum involvement of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in monitoring the situation ... and for cooperation in providing Ukrainian and international humanitarian help," Poroshenko's office said in a statement.

09/06/2014 10:58 AM EDT

Rebel Leader: Prisoner Exchange To Take Place Saturday

A separatist leader said that the rebels and Ukrainian government will begin the exchange of prisoners of war, part of the peace roadmap, later on Saturday, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Kiev said the details of the exchange were still being worked out.

09/05/2014 12:38 PM EDT

Peace Deal Outlined

New York Times Moscow bureau chief Neil MacFarquhar outlines the different aspects of the Ukrainian peace deal.

09/05/2014 12:18 PM EDT

Obama: Hopeful But Skeptical

Via Reuters:

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was hopeful but skeptical about a ceasefire agreed in Ukraine on Friday and urged European allies to agree on new sanctions against Russia that could be suspended if the peace plan holds.

He also said he was leaving a two-day NATO summit in Wales confident that U.S. allies were prepared to join a broad coalition to take action to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamic State militants in Iraq.

"We also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences. Today the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia's financial, energy and defense sectors," Obama told a news conference.

NATO had made clear it would defend every ally, and that it supported Ukraine's sovereignty against what he called Russian aggression, he said.

"With respect to the ceasefire agreement, obviously we are hopeful but based on past experience also skeptical that in fact the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. So it has to be tested," the president said.

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