UKRAINIAN officials have posted videos of captured Russian soldiers on social media sites as apparent evidence of direct Russian involvement in the fighting in the east of the country that has led to thousands of deaths.
The release of the videos came hours before the presidents of Ukraine and Russia were due to meet for the first time since the start of the conflict that has left the two countries teetering on the brink of all-out war.
In one video posted on a Ukrainian government Facebook page, a man dressed in camouflage identifies himself as a Russian paratrooper and says he did not know where he and his comrades entered Ukraine.
“I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometre march over three days,” he said. “Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We’ve come as cannon fodder.”
The capture of the ten Russian troops stoked tensions surrounding the meeting of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the Belarusian capital of Minsk yesterday.
The two men shook hands as they sat down at the summit for regional leaders and European Union representatives but, with neither side showing a willingness to compromise, hopes that the meeting will result in a resolution to the conflict appear slim.
Russia wants an unconditional ceasefire and dialogue between the rebels and Kiev, while Ukraine has demanded Moscow orders rebel to lay down their arms.
“In Minsk at this meeting, the fate of the world and Europe is being decided. That is how I see it,” Mr Poroshenko said after shaking hands with Mr Putin.
Mr Putin said he was certain the conflict “could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the south-east of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives”.
Kiev said the Russian soldiers were captured some 30 miles from the border while on a “special mission”, and was also quick to claim the capture of the paratroopers was clear evidence of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict.
The Ukrainian government has long maintained that rebel fighters not only received material support from Russia but also that many of them were regular Russian troops.
“Officially, they are on exercises in various corners of Russia,” Valeriy Geletey, Ukraine’s defence minister, wrote on his Facebook page.
“In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine.”
Staying consistent to Moscow’s denials of any military involvement in the fighting, the Russian defence ministry claimed the troops crossed the border “by accident”.
“The soldiers really did participate in a patrol of a section of the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossed it by accident on an unmarked section and, as far as we understand, showed no resistance to the armed forces of Ukraine when they were detained,” a defence ministry source was quoted as saying.
But Susan Rice, the US national security adviser, launched an attack on the Kremlin, saying that repeated “military incursions” into Ukraine by Russia and the use of artillery, air defence systems, tanks and troops represented a “significant escalation” in the conflict.