Russia has "well over 1,000 troops" operating inside Ukraine, Nato warned on Thursday, as Moscow faced an intensifying backlash over growing evidence of its direct military involvement in the former Soviet country's uprising in the east.
Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, commander of Nato's crisis operations centre said that the Russian military was transferring air defence systems, artillery, tanks and armoured personnel carriers to separatists in eastern Ukraine. Nato satellite images seen by the FT appeared to corroborate this.
"There's a severe escalation," he said. "The satellite imagery released today presents additional evidence Russian combat soldiers equipped with heavy weapons are operating inside Ukraine."
Gen Tak said Moscow's moves were an attempt to prevent a defeat of the pro-Russian separatists, adding that the estimate of troops inside Ukraine was a conservative one. He said there were about 20,000 Russian troops amassed at the border with Ukraine and that the troops were "far more capable than what we saw in March . . . an offensive army".
The revelation came as Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said in a televised statement he had cancelled a planned trip to Turkey after "Russian troops entered Ukraine". He called for emergency sessions of the UN Security Council and the EU Council of Ministers to discuss the "deteriorating situation" in the east of the country.
Russian officials have continued to deny any military presence in eastern Ukraine.
"We have clearly stated that there is no involvement of the Russian military, and we have not sent any equipment," Andrei Kelin, Russia's permanent representative to the OSCE, told Russian news agency Itar-Tass earlier on Thursday.