Russia has reportedly invaded the Ukraine, sending two armored columns that captured a town near the border.
Russian forces in two armored columns captured a key southeastern coastal town near the Russian border Thursday after Ukrainian forces retreated in the face of superior firepower, a Ukrainian military spokesman said.
The two Russian columns, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles, entered the town of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov after a battle in which Ukrainian army positions came under fire from Grad rockets launched from Russian territory, according to the spokesman, Col. Andriy Lysenko.
“Our border servicemen and guardsmen retreated as they did not have heavy equipment,” Lysenko said in a statement.
Ukrainian authorities have denounced the latest fighting as a Russian invasion of their territory, intended to prop up pro-Moscow separatists who have been losing ground to Ukrainian forces and to open a new front in the southeastern corner of Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials said earlier that Ukrainian troops were battling combined Russian and separatist forces on the new southern front around Novoazovsk, about eight miles west of the Russian border. The Ukrainian military also said Russian troops were increasing surveillance from northern Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.
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 under-equipped 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 would 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.