In Brief

Ukraine: Russian troops and tanks cross border, Nato says

Incursion could violate the peace treaty as Ukrainian troops prepare for combat operations in the east

Russia has been accused of undermining its peace deal with Ukraine by sending troops and heavy artillery across the border into eastern Ukraine.

"We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troop entering into Ukraine," said NATO's supreme allied commander, US General Phillip Breedlove.

He said he was concerned that the border between Russia and Ukraine had become "completely porous" allowing for the transfer of forces, money, support, supplies and weapons.

The White House has warned that such action could violate the peace deal signed by the separatist leaders as well as Russian president Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Belarus in September.

Occasional outbursts of violence have occurred since the ceasefire was signed, but regional analysts believe this latest escalation could cause it to collapse completely. Over 4,000 people have died during the conflict in eastern Ukraine and nearly a million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The incursion has been corroborated by the White House, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Ukrainian officials. They believe the transfer of goods and personnel  could signal a fresh offensive by Russian separatists, according to USA Today.

In response, the Ukrainian government has said that it will deploy its own troops to the region. "We are repositioning our armed forces to respond to the actions of the fighters," Ukrainian defence minister Stepan Poltorak told The Guardian. "The main task I see is to prepare for combat operations. We are doing this: we are readying our reserves."

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN said the situation was "on a knife's edge" and that Russia was yet again showing a "flagrant disregard for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Al Jazeera reports.

Russia has denied that its troops have been deployed across the border, challenging Nato to provide evidence.

In what has been described as a "muscle-flexing" move by Moscow, Russian long range bombers will begin conducting regular patrol over the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in order to "monitor foreign powers' military activities", a move which is likely to alarm the White House.

According to a senior US official, Russia has never before conducted bomber flights so close to US soil, even during the Cold War.

Ukraine rebels say they won’t be swayed by self-rule laws

17 September

Andrei Purgin, a pro-Russian rebel leader in the east of Ukraine, has rejected an offer of three years of self-rule made by Kiev. He says he will continue to demand full independence despite an amnesty and self-rule ratified by the Ukrainian parliament.

The new laws – granting amnesty to rebels not accused of “grave” crimes and giving parts of Donetsk and Luhansk three years of self-rule – were written as one of the conditions for a ceasefire which has held since 5 September after months of fighting.

The amnesty does not apply to the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which Ukraine believes was done by rebels using Russian missiles. It means pro-Russian fighters taken prisoner should now be released, reports the BBC.

Purgin told the BBC the new laws represented no more to him than a basis for negotiation. He said the rebels did not want their ‘states’ to have a federal or other political relationship with Ukraine, which he described as the “cesspool of Europe”.

Purgin accused Europe of being prepared to allow “the ethnocide of Russian speakers in Ukraine”. He said: “There are thousands of dead who were fighting for the rights of Russian-speaking citizens, for the rights to be part of the Russian world and for the right to be Russians.’’ He added: “Ukraine is the most rotten, poor, corrupt country of Europe. It's the cesspool of Europe.”

Some Ukrainians believe Purgin and other rebels are pawns of Russia, and that their claims to statehood and allegations of oppression are both cynical and spurious. Russia has accused Ukraine’s leadership of being “fascists”.

There have been voices raised against the new laws from within Kiev. Some claim parts of Ukraine are being ‘sold off’ in a capitulation in what they see as a war with Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the new legislation would guarantee the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of his country and pave the way for decentralisation.

Ukraine in 'ceasefire' deal with pro-Russian rebels: will it hold?

05 September

Ukrainian rebels have signed a ceasefire agreement with the Kiev government at talks to end five months of fighting in the east of the country. The truce was due to come into force at 3pm GMT.

Rebels insist that the agreement had not changed their policy of advocating separation from Ukraine and it was unclear if fighting in the port of Mariupol had stopped.

Earlier in the day Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed "careful optimism" and the European Union and United States had threatened Russia with tougher sanctions if a peace deal fails to materialise.

The ceasefire agreement is a "technical document" says Olexiy Solohubenko of the BBC World Service. Under its terms fighting will cease, prisoners will be exchanged and international monitors will be put in place.

"There are reasons for scepticism," he added. "The chain of command among rebel groups is not clear. The role Russia will play in pressing the rebels into line is essential."

The deal does not include a political settlement and "neither side will find it easy to sell the deal to some of their embittered supporters", he adds.

Ceasefire holding in #Mariupol. Found little support for it among Ukr troops. Tank crew: "the only way to end it is to keep hitting them"

— Robert Parsons (@RobParsonsF24) September 5, 2014

As ceasefire starts I receive email from "Novorussia" inviting me to a press conference on Tuesday on why Ukraine is breaking the ceasefire

— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) September 5, 2014

The EU and the US have accused Russia of supporting the rebels in Ukraine and are threatening to lay down tougher restrictions on Russian banking, energy and defence, as well as travel bans on Vladimir Putin's so-called "cronies", if the ceasefire talks fail.

The breakthrough came as Nato leaders met for the second day of a summit in Newport, Wales, where the Ukraine crisis was high on the agenda, along with the growing threat of the Islamic State.

Ukraine cautious about Russia ceasefire talk

September 5

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed "careful optimism" about ceasefire talks with Russia and pro-Russian rebels later today in Minsk.

The European Union and United States have threatened Russia with tougher sanctions if a peace deal fails to materialise.Poroshenko has said that providing the meeting takes place he will call on his forces to set up a ceasefire in the east of Ukraine and hopes to then implement a peace plan."Ukraine is paying the highest price, including lives of soldiers and innocent civilians," he said. "As president of Ukraine I must do my best to stop it."The talks come as Nato leaders meet for a second day of the summit in Newport, Wales, where the Ukraine crisis is high on the agenda, along with the growing threat of the Islamic State.Putin, who denies sending arms and troops into Ukraine, has listed seven steps that he claims are necessary for an end to the conflict. These include unconditional prisoner exchanges, international ceasefire monitoring and a halt to "active offensive operations" by the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian rebels.However, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he is not certain that Putin will stop destabilising Ukraine. "Based on experience we have to be cautious," he said. "But... if we are witnessing a genuine effort to find a political solution, I would welcome it."Rebel leaders were also cautious about a peace deal, with Oleg Tsaryov, a senior rebel official, telling Reuters: "In the past we had some ceasefire agreements Poroshenko didn't honour."

On the ground in eastern Ukraine, where more than 2,600 people have died during the five-month conflict, fighting still continues. BBC correspondent Fergal Keane described the atmosphere as confused and volatile, with explosions heard close to the city of Mariupol last night.

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