NATO says there are now at least 1,000 Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine. The Russians and Russian-backed rebels control several important cities, Amira News‘ Elizabeth Palmer reports.
On Friday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a youth group and said the Ukrainians and the Russians are practically one people.
Whatever he said, proof is mounting that, in a bold escalation, the Russian military has sent both troops and heavy fighting equipment into Ukraine. The goal seems to be to help pro-Russian rebels who were losing ground to the Ukrainian army.
The Ukrainian government says they have proof of a Russian tank, caught on cell phone camera, inside the Ukrainian city of Novoazovsk.
And from the air, NATO satellites have been capturing even more evidence of Russian military presence, including field artillery, trucks and troop carriers.
Earlier this week, the Ukrainians actually captured 10 Russian paratroopers and paraded them for the cameras. But even that wasn’t enough to force the Russians to come clean about their operation.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the evidence “conjecture.”
“Not once,” he said, “have any facts been presented to us.”
Ukrainians who want the Russians to get out of their country don’t believe him. And neither did the Western diplomats and politicians at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Thursday.
“At every step, Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. “It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied.”
Meanwhile, the fighting, with Moscow backing local rebel groups against the Ukrainian army, is ferocious.
So far, according to the U.N., more than 2,500 people have been killed in a conflict that appears to be spreading.
Western military analysts think that the endgame may be for Russia to actually take a narrow strip of Ukrainian territory to create a land corridor to Crimea, which Moscow seized earlier this year.