NATO officials on Thursday released satellite images they claim show mobile Russian artillery units and supporting vehicles "engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine."
The newly presented evidence comes as Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko declared from Kiev on Thursday that "Russian forces have actually entered Ukraine."
According to the Guardian:
The accusation comes just two days after the Ukrainian leader met Vladimir Putin in Minsk, since when the situation in the east has deteriorated.
Poroshenko stopped short of calling the movements an outright invasion, but convened an urgent meeting of the country's national security council to discuss the Russian moves.
In a statement about the satellite images—which were "captured in late August"—NATO claimed they "depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action by establishing firing positions in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine." The images were provided by Digital Global, an independent U.S.-based satellite imaging firm, to whom NATO referred those interested in verifying the images. NATO said they did not alter or change the images in any way.
"Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia's military interference in Ukraine," said Brigadier General Tak, a senior NATO commander. "The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine's sovereign territory."
The Washington Post offered this detailed explanation of the images.
Officials in Russia denied the recent and repeated accusations that its soldiers are operating in Ukraine. According to Agence France-Presse:
Russia's defence ministry on Thursday denied US and Kiev claims of its troops' direct involvement in the escalating fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Kremlin insurgents in the separatist east.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies that the "information has no relation to reality" and that army units believed by Washington to have crossed into Ukraine were conducting "tactical training exercises on their own and outlying ranges."
The comments were the first by issued by a senior Russian official in Moscow since the US ambassador to Kiev accused Moscow of providing air defence systems to the rebels and becoming "directly involved in the fighting".
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On the latest developments, Reuters reports:
The latest sharp escalation in the crisis came only two days after the presidents of both countries held their first talks in more than two months and agreed to work towards launching a peace process.
Ukraine's security and defense council said the border town of Novoazovsk and other parts of Ukraine's south-east had fallen under the control of Russian forces.
"A counter-offensive by Russian troops and separatist units is continuing in south-east Ukraine," it said on Twitter.
It said Ukrainian government forces had withdrawn from Novoazovsk "to save their lives" and were now reinforcing defenses in Mariupol.
Despite what continues to be an environment where claims by government officials on all sides—from Washington, Kiev, and Moscow—remain difficult to verify and hard to believe, the play between the so-called "fog of war" on the ground in eastern Ukraine and the state-fueled propoganda on all sides remains a key feature for those trying to understand the complex and deadly situation that continues to unfold.
As Stephen Cohen, an expert on Russian and Cold War history and professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University, confessed in an interview with radio host Thomm Hartmann on Tuesday of this week, "There is so much misinformation, whether intended or unintended, coming out of Washington... particularly [out of] Kiev... and out of Moscow that a person has to figure out what is true and what isn't true."
For Cohen's full assessment of some of the recent events and his analysis of how U.S. media have so far handled the coverage of the Ukraine conflict, watch/listen to the interview that follows:
In a striking part of his assessment, Cohen offers a nuanced view of Putin's behavior (hard to find in the U.S. press) that seems essential for those worried about the U.S./NATO narrative of events but who also remain skeptical of Putin's stance and the Russian military's possible involvement in supplying the Ukraine rebels.
"I think, but I don't know," said Cohen, "that allegations that Russia's Putin is sending higher-quality, heavier weapons to the defenders of [eastern Ukraine] is undoubtedly—not undoubtedly, but probably—true." And here's the reason, Cohen continued, "I think that Putin can not let this Russified region of Ukraine fall. He simply can't. But desperately does he not want to intervene directly. So he's trying to see, along with sending humanitarian help, whether the native rebels of eastern Ukraine can push back the Ukrainian Army that's closing in on these two cities [of Donetsk and Luhansk]."