Ukrainians like fascists, Putin says amid claims Russian units fighting there
Russian president fires back at claims he has sent troops and equipment across border and demands ‘substantive talks’ on resolving conflict
Russian President Vladimir Putin has hit back at accusations that he has effectively invaded Ukraine, accusing Ukrainian forces of behaving like Nazis in the conflict in the east.
Hours after US President Barack Obama accused Russia of sending troops into Ukraine, Putin retorted that the Ukrainian army was the villain of the piece, targeting residential areas of towns and cities like German troops did in the former Soviet Union.
Russia's latest alleged interventions in Ukraine, in which it stands accused of sending as many as 1,000 soldiers and military hardware across the border to bolster the flagging separatist insurrection, has prompted a flurry of emergency meetings.
Nato ambassadors emerged from a meeting yesterday accusing Russia of a "blatant violation" of Ukraine's sovereignty.
"Despite Moscow's hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border into eastern and southeastern Ukraine," Nato's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said.
Obama convened his national security council on Thursday, and emerged to say that Moscow was responsible for the recent upsurge in violence, in which a new front has opened up in Ukraine's far southeast close to the city of Mariupol.
Speaking at a news conference in Washington, the US president said Russia was encouraging, training, arming and funding separatists in the region and warned Moscow that it faced further isolation.
He said: "Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see. This comes as Ukrainian forces are making progress against the separatists."
Obama again ruled out US military action, but threatened a further tightening of sanctions.
Putin hit back by saying: "It is necessary to force the Ukrainian authorities to substantively begin these talks - not on technical issues - the talks must be substantive.
"Small villages and large cities [are] surrounded by the Ukrainian army, which is directly hitting residential areas with the aim of destroying the infrastructure . . . It sadly reminds me of the events of the second world war, when German fascist . . . occupants surrounded our cities."
Ukraine's prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, raised the stakes further yesterday, saying he would try to take the country into Nato. Ukraine has formally held a position of non-alignment since its independence in 1991.
EU foreign ministers were meeting on the eve of a summit of leaders which will consider further sanctions against Moscow.
"All our hopes of de-escalation have been disappointed and the situation is showing signs that it is now out of control," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
The Guardian, Reuters, Agence France-Presse