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The west says Russian troops are in Ukraine

If true, that’s not good.

Ukrainian soldiers guard at a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers guard at a checkpoint in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

REBELS IN EAST Ukraine appeared to have seized swathes of territory from government forces who abandoned vehicles and ammunition as they left, as Western intelligence said Russian army units were operating inside the country.

After weeks of successful military operations that have seen government forces push deep into the last rebel bastions, the tide appears to be turning once again in the four-month conflict, prompting a nervous government in Kiev to call on NATO for help.

AFP journalists saw no signs of government troops south of the rebel-held city of Donetsk, with road blocks on the entire 100-kilometre (60-mile) stretch to the Azov Sea manned by pro-Russian rebels.

Ukraine Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko, centre, leaves a news conference in Donetsk. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded that the Kremlin was “not interested in breaking up” Ukraine, although it does respect two independence referendums from May — in Crimea and the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.

Lavrov also confirmed that Russia will send a second aid convoy into Ukraine “in the nearest future” which will be followed by others. A first convoy was sent to Lugansk last week, and Kiev fears they could provide cover for smuggling military support to the rebels.

‘Not our business’

Poroshenko and Putin held marathon talks in the Belarus capital Minsk yesterday alongside top EU officials to try to find ways to end the conflict that has claimed over 2,200 lives.

The Ukrainian president said all sides had “without exception” agreed to his peace plan, and that he and Putin had discussed the “necessity of closing Ukraine’s borders” to prevent the movement of “equipment, mercenaries, and ammunition”.

Ukraine Ukrainian soldiers park their hardware on roadside as they wait for the start of the march into the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Putin again insisted Russia had no role in the fighting, saying: “We cannot discuss any ceasefire conditions. It’s not our business, it’s Ukraine’s internal business.”

He played down reports that 10 Russian paratroopers had been captured 20 kilometres inside Ukrainian territory, backing his military’s claims that they had strayed across the border by accident.

© – AFP 2014

Read: No breakthrough in Russia-Ukraine talks (but everyone says they want peace)

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