Ukraine president points to Russian hand in conflict

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2015 3:01 PM
Ukraine president points to Russian hand in conflict

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Ukraine's president courted European support Wednesday against what he says are 9,000 Russian troops occupying 7 percent of his nation's territory.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he appealed for political and financial support, President Petro Poroshenko held up a piece of a bullet-riddled bus as evidence of shelling last week by heavy artillery in "occupied" parts of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader brandished the scrap of yellow metal — a relic of Volnovakha, the town where 13 people were killed when a bus was shelled — an image he clearly intended to reinforce his case that Russia has a direct hand in the conflict.

"I have here part of the Volnovakha bus, with the hit of the fragments of the Russian missiles which hit my people. And for me this is a symbol, a symbol of the terroristic attack against my country," he said, comparing it to the rockets that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine. He called it a "global problem," extending far beyond just Ukraine's borders.

Poroshenko demanded that Russia close the border and withdraw all its "foreign troops" from Ukraine.

Ukraine's intelligence has confirmed from independent sources that there are more than 9,000 Russian troops on its territory, including more than 500 tanks, heavy artillery and personnel carriers, Poroshenko told the crowd of political and business elites.

"If this is not an aggression, what is an aggression?"

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters she couldn't confirm the figures but there has been an increase in separatist violence, including rocket attacks on the Donetsk airport, in recent days, and separatist seizures of more territory.

"We've also seen reports that Russia has moved two tactical battalions into Ukraine," she said. "We can confirm that Russia continues to move tanks, armored vehicles, trucks artillery pieces and other military equipment to deployment sites near the Russia-Ukraine border, which serve as staging points before transporting military equipment to pro-Russia separatists. That is something we're seeing."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was concerned that the separatists were attacking the town of Debaltseve, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) east of Donetsk.

"This is a very blatant land grab and it is in direct contravention to the Minsk Agreement that they signed up to," Kerry said.

Russian, Ukrainian, French and German diplomats were converging on Berlin later for talks on a recent escalation of fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists, who both use similar Soviet-designed weapons. But the amount of sophisticated heavy weaponry in the insurgents' hands has been widely seen in the West as strong evidence of Russia's direct involvement.

Poroshenko's delegation brought to Davos a detailed description of territory west of the ceasefire line that they say the Russians and their rebel allies have seized since the ceasefire. It also described Russian involvement as being confirmed by Western spy satellites.

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Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.