Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that 10 Russian paratroopers were captured in battle-torn eastern Ukraine and posted videotaped confessions of some soldiers in the strongest evidence to date of a Kremlin hand in the separatist battle.
The capture of the Russian soldiers coincided with the first meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, since the candy magnate was inaugurated in June.
At the gathering of regional leaders in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, there had been little expectation of a breakthrough in the 5-month-old battle between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russia separatists, and none occurred.
Putin and Poroshenko laid out starkly differing visions of how to end the conflict, and the Kremlin leader’s threats of retaliation against Ukraine for anticipated economic damage from Ukraine’s new trade relationship with the European Union did nothing to ease tension between the two leaders.
Putin insisted at the meeting of the Kremlin-initiated Eurasian Customs Union that there would be no military solution to Ukraine’s fight against separatists who have occupied government buildings in two key regions since April. The uprising against rule from Kiev was inspired by the Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in February and annexation the next month.
“We are ready to exchange opinions on the current urgent crisis situation in Ukraine, which, we are convinced, cannot be solved through further escalation of the military scenario … [or] without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives,” Putin said at the Minsk meeting, which was also attended by the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus and representatives of the 28-nation European Union.
Poroshenko responded with the assertion that the conflict can’t be resolved until Russia’s ill-concealed support for the separatist militants ceases.