US warns of ‘significant’ Ukraine escalation ahead of key

Nicolas GAUDICHET with Max DELANY in Kiev and Richard LEIN in Moscow, AFP

Repeated Russian incursions into Ukraine unacceptable. Dangerous and inflammatory, US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Twitter late Monday. Rice accused Russian forces of “military incursions” into Ukraine using artillery, air defense systems, tanks and troops, representing a “significant escalation” in the conflict. “Russia has no right to send vehicles or cargo into Ukraine without Govt of Ukraine’s permission,” she said. Her comments came after Kiev’s security service said soldiers from the 98th airborne division based in central Russia were captured near the Ukrainian village of Dzerkalne, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) southeast of the rebel hub Donetsk.

‘Illegal border crossing’

“Investigators opened a criminal probe into illegal border crossing by Russian armed citizens,” the security service said in a statement. Ukraine’s Defence Minister Valeriy Geletey said the soldiers were captured on Monday. “Today Ukrainian armed forces captured many Russian soldiers,” Geletey wrote on his Facebook page. “Officially they are at exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “I am addressing the relatives of Russian servicemen: find out immediately where your loved ones are. Take them out of Ukraine, where they are being forced to die.” Kiev has long accused Moscow of stoking the separatist insurgency raging in its east, but this is the first time Ukrainian authorities have claimed to take soldiers from Russia’s regular army captive. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the rebellion in Ukraine, saying any evidence pointing to this has been fabricated. Earlier on Monday, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said troops had halted a column of tanks and armoured personal carriers flying rebel flags from Russia heading towards the government-held port city of Mariupol. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the claims, saying: “There has been more than enough disinformation about our invasion. No doubt some foreign newspaper will print that ‘news’ tomorrow.”