As Russian forces become a more common sight in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly said that his forces could take Kiev "in two weeks."
A Kremlin aide sharply criticized EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for breaching confidentiality when he quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin making the remark.
Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader's foreign policy adviser, told reporters that Putin's statement was "taken out of context and carried a completely different meaning."
Ushakov lashed out at Barroso, saying it was a breach of diplomatic practices and "unworthy of a serious politician" to speak publicly about a private conversation. Barroso had briefed the EU's 28 leaders hours after the phone conversation at a summit in Brussels — from where the information eventually leaked.
Putin's comment reportedly came in response to Barroso pointing out Ukrainian and Western reports that Russia had sharply escalated the conflict in eastern Ukraine by sending regular army units into Ukraine. NATO estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine, helping turn the tide in the last week in favor of the pro-Russian insurgents. The military alliance also says 20,000 other Russian soldiers have been positioned along the Ukraine-Russian border.
Russian military forces have been spotted in both major rebel-held cities in eastern Ukraine, an official said Tuesday, prompting Ukraine to declare that it now has to fight the Russian army, not just the separatists.
The statement on the Russians by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, came after the country's defense minister said Ukraine's armed forces are expanding their strategy from just fighting separatists to facing the Russian army in a war that could cost "tens of thousands" of lives.
Lysenko told reporters Russian troops had been seen in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as other locations throughout the east. The claim could not be confirmed independently. Lysenko also said 15 servicemen had been killed over the previous day.
Ushakov on Tuesday reaffirmed Moscow's repeated denial that it has sent any soldiers into Ukraine, even though a rebel leader said last week that Russian servicemen on leave were among some 4,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page that the counter-insurgency operation against the rebels is over and the nation's military was now facing the Russian army.
"This is our Great Patriotic War," he wrote, using the local terminology for World War II.
Russia's Foreign Ministry dismissed Heletey's remarks as "shocking" and accused him of trying to shift blame and keep his position amid a series of defeats suffered by the Ukrainian military.
Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead and forced at least 340,000 to flee. In the last week, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground, launching a new offensive along the Sea of Azov coast.
Efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the hostilities, which followed the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president and Russia's annexation of Crimea in March, have failed.
Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the pro-Russian rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe made another attempt Monday to reach an accord in Minsk, the Belarusian capital. Rebels presented a negotiating platform that dropped their previous demand for full independence and expressed readiness to negotiate a settlement that would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity in exchange for a broad autonomy for its eastern provinces.
The talks lasted several hours and were adjourned until Friday, when the parties are expected to discuss a possible cease-fire and a prisoners' exchange.
However, the prospect of talks between Ukraine and the rebels appear dim.
"We don't cooperate with terrorist organizations," said Iryna Herashchenko, the presidential envoy for eastern Ukraine, according to the Interfax news agency.
And Oleh Tyanhybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, said "I would warn the president and diplomats from sitting at the talks table" with rebels.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday urged the United States to use its influence with Ukraine to encourage efforts to reach a political settlement.
"It's necessary to restrain the party of war in Kiev and only the United States can do it," he said at a briefing.
Vladimir Isachenkov and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.
09/06/2014 6:08 PM EDT
Factory Ablaze After Artillery Fire Near Mariupol
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.
Hashtag #russiaviolatedceasefire is now showing up as a suggestion. Good work, fellow Ukrainians— неХуёвый Portland (@the_boris) September 6, 2014
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
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.
#Ukraine shelling started at approx 2235 local and is continuing— Fergal Keane (@fergalkeane47) September 6, 2014
#Ukraine On roof of hotel and can see flashes from explosions and hear powerful detonations.— Fergal Keane (@fergalkeane47) September 6, 2014
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
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.
The Ukrainian National Information Agency released a list of the 14 points included in the cease-fire plan. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
2 some focused on cease-fire itself, some on practical steps to get the government functioning and some on Donbas political future. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
3 The agreement followed almost verbatim a cease-fire proposal first put out by Mr. Poroshenko in June.— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
4 14 points include amnesty for all those who disarm and who did not commit serious crimes, as well as the release of all hostages. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
5 Militias will be disbanded, and a 10-kilometer buffer zone established along Russian-Ukrainian border. Area subject to joint patrols— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
6 Separatists agreed to leave administrative buildings they control and broadcasts from Ukraine to resume on TV #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
7 On future, the agreement said power would be decentralized and the Russian language protected. Region consulted on selection of governor— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
8. Early elections and jobs....No mention of a chicken in every pot. #Ukraine— Neil MacFarquhar (@NeilMacFarquhar) September 5, 2014
09/05/2014 12:18 PM EDT
Obama: Hopeful But Skeptical
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.