Russia invades Ukraine, troops pour over border

AMBASSADORS from the 28 Nato countries and Ukraine will hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss Russia's incursions into south-eastern Ukraine which became obvious today after months of smaller and more discreet activity in Ukrainian territory.

Russia's actions will be a major source of division at next week's Nato conference as eastern European members push for stronger action to stop Russia escalating its activities in eastern Ukraine.

The invasion finally switched from being hidden and denied to open and blatant, although the Ukrainian government was reluctant to use the word "invasion" to describe the military incursion of Russian troops and armour into its sovereign territory.

As the presence of Russian troops became clear, President Petro Poroshenko cancelled a visit to Turkey for the inauguration of newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and called an emergency session of his country's security council. 

"I have decided to cancel my visit to Turkey because of the sharp escalation of the situation in the Donetsk region... as Russian forces have entered Ukraine," he said.

Russian mercenary forces have long been suspected of supporting pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region, but recent Ukrainian military successes have forced Russia to become more overt.

The appearance of Russian troops in south-east Ukraine is similar to the appearance of the "green men" in Crimea which preceded the Russian takeover. The green men were Russian soldiers without insignia who the Russian government and Crimean separatists initially denied were Russian.

A Nato officer told reporters at its headquarters in Mons: "We assess well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine. They are supporting separatists [and] fighting with them."

The officer showed reporters a satellite picture, dated 23 August, 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."

Colonel Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's security council, said that this afternoon two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles fired missiles at a border post in south-eastern Ukraine, then rolled into the country as outnumbered Ukrainian border guards fled.

UN Security Council in March this year, convened after Russian troops took over the Ukraine territory of Crimea
UN Security Council in March this year, convened after Russian troops took over the Ukraine territory of Crimea AP Photo - John Minchillo

Russian soldiers and rebels also suddenly appeared in Novoazovsk, on the coast of the Sea of Azov, and nearby areas, according to reporters from Associated Press and Reuters. 

The area provides a land link between mainland Russia and Crimea.

Few are trying to disguise the existence of Russian soldiers. Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told Reuters that about 3,000 Russian volunteers were serving in the rebel ranks.

"Today we reached the Sea of Azov, the shore, and the process of liberating our land, which is temporarily occupied by the Ukrainian authorities, will keep going further and further," Mr Zakharchenko said in Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine.

He said the new front in the south along the Sea of Azov coast was "economically, militarily and politically the only front on which we should place our emphasis".

"Taking Mariupol, the second-biggest town in Donetsk region, will allow us to expand our units by another five or seven thousand," he said, referring to the port city.

In Russia, Reuters also monitored armoured columns of Russian forces leaving the Ukraine after being involved in fighting. Vehicles were damaged and soldiers injured as they drove near the village of Krasnodarovka in Russia's Rostov region.

General-Major Igor Konashenkov said there was no basis to any of the evidence of a Russian presence in Ukraine. "The information contained in this material bears no relation to reality," he said.

The Ukrainian government is reluctant to describe the organised incursion of Russian troops into its territory as an invasion.

Orysia Lutsevych, a research fellow at Chatham House, said using the word "invasion" was not in Ukraine's interest and could "raise the profile of the conflict from a local war to an international war".

She said: "Ukraine is stronger when it is a local war than a fully fledged international war, when it would have to deal with all the strength of Russia."

Russian stock markets dived as fears grew that the country was escalating its role in the conflict, a move that could provoke the US and EU to impose further sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals.

Russia's MICEX index dropped nearly two per cent today.  

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