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Russia's Putin urges release of Ukrainian soldiers

By NATALIYA VASILYEVA

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Putin's statement came several hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers accused Moscow of lying about its role and dangerously escalating the conflict.

NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and later released what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the accusations of an invasion in a televised news conference on Friday, saying that Moscow "has not been presented with any facts" proving that it had happened.

For the second day, Russian markets reacted nervously to the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine with the Russian ruble diving to the all-time low of 37.10 rubles against the U.S. dollar in early morning trading.

Markets dropped on Thursday on reports of Russia's apparent invasion in Ukraine, sparking investors' fears of further economic sanctions directed at Moscow. The ruble lost 1.4 percent against the dollar and the MICEX benchmark shed 1.6 percent.

"I'm calling on insurgents to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who were surrounded in order to avoid senseless deaths," Putin said in the statement published on the Kremlin's web-site in the early hours on Friday.

Putin did not address the claims about Russia's military presence in Ukraine. Instead, he lauded the pro-Russian separatists whom he described as "insurgents" for "undermining Kiev's military operation which threatened lives of the residents of Donbass and has already led to a colossal death toll among civilians."

Putin's statement could be referring to Ukrainian troops who have been trapped outside the strategic town of Ilovaysk, east of Donetsk, for nearly a week now. Protesters rallied outside the Ukrainian General Staff on Thursday, demanding reinforcements and heavy weaponry for the troops outside Ilovaysk, most of whom are volunteers.

A top rebel leader in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk promptly reacted to Putin's appeal but said the Ukrainian troops would have to lay down the arms before they were allowed to go.

"With all our respect to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of a country which gives us moral support, we are ready to open humanitarian corridors to the Ukrainian troops who were surrounded with the condition that they surrender heavy weaponry and ammunition so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future," Alexander Zakharchenko said on Russia's state Rossiya 24 television.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday that the death toll from fighting in eastern Ukraine has risen to at least 2,220 - a rate of about three dozen a day - and accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians.

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, according to the mission's field work between July 16 and Aug. 17. The report also said Ukraine's military is guilty of human rights violations such as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, who visited Kiev on Friday, said the death toll had reached nearly 2,600 by Aug. 27, and described the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine as "alarming."

Simonovic condemned rebels for preventing people from leaving cities caught up in the fighting. He also pointed to reports of violations by volunteer battalions under government control.

Two columns of tanks and other equipment entered southeastern Ukraine at midday on Thursday, following heavy shelling of the area from Russia that forced overmatched Ukrainian border guards to flee, according to Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's national security council.

European Union foreign ministers met in Milan Friday to weigh the 28-nation bloc's stance amid increasing calls to beef up economic sanctions against Russia. Their discussion was expected to prepare possible further steps to be announced at a summit of the bloc's leaders Saturday in Brussels.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been a key power broker between the West and Russia, and they agreed Russia must face consequences for its actions.

Obama said Russia's activity in Ukraine would incur "more costs and consequences," though these seemed to be limited to economic pressure that will be discussed when Obama meets with European leaders at a NATO summit in Wales next week.

In a phone conversation with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko late Thursday, Merkel assured the Ukrainian leader of her support for "decisive actions" that could be taken Saturday, Poroshenko's press office said.

In Donetsk, the largest city under rebel control, the mayor's office reported sustained shelling across town on Friday morning. No casualties were immediately reported.

__

Jim Heintz contributed to this report from Kiev, Ukraine.

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John August 29 2014 at 7:40 AM

What would Reagan do? The opposite of what Obama is doing. That is why Reagan won the Cold War.

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22 replies
d.carns August 29 2014 at 8:42 AM

Sorry to say this as an American but Putin seems to be the only Humanitarian in this world of chaos. He tries to deliver aid to East Ukraine Civilians and is blocked by Ukraine dictatorship and USA Obama. Does the right thing and does it anyway. Then asks for release of Ukriane Soldiers only condition is drop their arms NORMAL request. Obama and the Eu puppets reject offer. I wish we had more real leaders in the World..

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21 replies
fishhead80 August 29 2014 at 7:34 AM

You better do what he says.
Don't confuse Putin with Girly man (we ain't too sure about the "man " part), Obama.

Flag Reply +16 rate up
10 replies
wbearl August 29 2014 at 8:58 AM

In the 90's I was traveling a lot out side the US. It was embarrassing to see the US the blunt of all of the Clinton jokes. Today I'm ashamed to be an American. We have let down all our friends and allies. In just 6 short years the United States has set back world peace 50 years. How many people have died because we have failed to do anything but watch and talk. No sane person wants war, but more often than not being strong and willing to use that strength is enough to keep others on the path of peace.

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12 replies
fhofer1040 August 29 2014 at 8:07 AM

NOTHING that comes from Putin's mouth should be believed!

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5 replies
PeopleSmoks August 29 2014 at 8:25 AM

Putin seems to be the only one calling for peace, yet many folks who only get the filtered news from western media continue to say he's the bad guy.

On at least 4 separate occasions, Ukrainian army has been cut off and getting their butts kicked, and Putin has allowed them safe passage into Russia, and then allowed them to safely return to Ukraine.

Are those the actions of a bad guy?

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4 replies
PeopleSmoks August 29 2014 at 8:32 AM

All you who parrot the propaganda spewed from Kiev, you know that the UN, OSCE and even NATO have not verified the latest claims of Russia invading Ukraine.

Its become a matter of Kiev makes a claim of an invasion, the media reports there was an invasion, there's no evidence, but the media doesn't bother to report that there was no evidence... and then a bunch of you folks continue to say Russia did it!

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5 replies
grlsrm200 August 29 2014 at 8:08 AM

The snactions are hurting Russia and they are surronded by NATO countries.. Putin does not want war any more then we do. Some posters seem to want to start WW 3. Well be prepared to fight if your so brave. But most cowards have things all figured out as long as they are safe at home ..

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7 replies
Bernie August 29 2014 at 8:06 AM

Pinocchio Putin continues the charades..

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2 replies
Paul Bernie August 29 2014 at 8:46 AM

Putin is doing what is good for Russia can you say the same about Obama. Obama is doing everything that is bad for We The People

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3 replies
navalphoto Bernie August 29 2014 at 10:00 AM

Perhaps we could get Putin to get our marine out of Mexico.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
almazstmp August 29 2014 at 11:01 AM

Sergei Lavrov - Russian foreign minister. Seasoned career diplomat raised in a family of a career diplomat. Highly intelligent, articulate speaker.

Hillary Clinton - U.S. secretary of state. Most of her political experience comes from partisan mudslinging, the art of spin and storytelling. Habitual liar, comes across as a phony. Limited knowledge of modern history. Confused about who were the combatants and allies in WWII.

John Kerry - U.S. secretary of state. Self confessed war criminal. Mediocre Senator from mediocre state. Became a gigolo to get ahead in life.

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3 replies
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