Russian soldiers, tanks and heavy artillery began rolling into southeastern Ukraine in earnest Thursday, the Ukrainian government said, as well-armed detachments captured key towns, burned buildings and sent the underequipped Ukrainian forces into full retreat — a show of military force that the United States now considers an invasion in all but name.
U.S. officials began saying privately for the first time Thursday that they consider the escalation of recent days tantamount to a Russian invasion, but President Obama stopped short of using the term at a news conference late in the afternoon. He said the United States will continue to rely on sanctions in an effort to deter Russia.
“Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine,” he said. “Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
But he said the problem will not be solved with U.S. or outside military action. “A military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming,” he said.
Buttressing the Ukrainian accounts, NATO released satellite images Thursday of what it said were Russian artillery, vehicles and troops in and around eastern Ukraine. One image showed what NATO officials said was a convoy with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, inside territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, on Aug. 21.