Fighting between the Ukrainian military and what Ukrainian and Western officials say are Russian troops worsened early Thursday, prompting fears in Ukraine that a Russian invasion of their territory has begun.
Ukrainian officials say Ukrainian troops are continuing to battle combined Russian and separatist forces on a new southern front around the border town of Novoazovsk, east of Crimea on the Sea of Azov. A military spokesman also said Russian troops are increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.
As firefights and shelling continued all day Wednesday and into the night, there were differing reports on whether Novoazovsk, a previously quiet border town, had fallen to Russian-backed separatists. Russian troops and their allies do control villages north of there, according to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko.
Referring to a “Russian-directed counteroffensive,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday, “Clearly, that is of deep concern to us, but we’re also concerned by the Russian government’s unwillingness to tell the truth, even as its soldiers are found 30 miles inside Ukraine.”
Widespread reports of Russian troop movements and fighting in Ukraine provoked renewed criticism from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whose secretary general said in an interview with British reporters Wednesday that it will deploy forces at new bases in eastern Europe for the first time in response to the Ukraine crisis and to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the Guardian newspaper.