Russian rebels to allow Ukrainian troops safe exit

Aug 29, 2014, 7:31 AM EDT
Residents of Donetsk gather on Lenin Square, where pro-Russian rebels organized a anti-Kiev parade featuring destroyed Ukrainian military vehicles on August 24, 2014 in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Pro-Moscow rebels fighting in Ukraine said they would open up a "humanitarian corridor" to allow the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops they have encircled. Reuters writes:

It was not clear how the government in Kiev would react to the offer, suggested first by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the first word from the Ukrainian military was negative. It said in a statement that Putin's call showed only that "these people (the separatists) are led and controlled directly from the Kremlin".

Kiev has accused Russian troops of illegally entering eastern Ukraine and, backed by its U.S. and European allies, has said it will fight to defend its soil. Russia stands accused of pushing troops and weapons into the former Soviet republic to shore up a separatist rebellion that a week ago appeared to be on its last legs.

That development has sharply escalated the five-month conflict over eastern Ukraine. In his late-night statement, released by the Kremlin, Putin adopted a softer tone, though without acknowledging that Russia's military is involved in the conflict.

"It is clear that the rebellion has achieved some serious successes in stopping the armed operation by Kiev," Putin was quoted as saying in the statement.

"I call on the militia forces to open a humanitarian corridor for encircled Ukraine servicemen in order to avoid pointless victims, to allow them to leave the fighting area without impediment, join their families ... to provide urgent medical aid to those wounded as a result of the military operation."

U.S. President Barack Obama has accused Russia of being responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The BBC reports:

He said the fighting was not the result of a home-grown indigenous uprising but of "deep Russian involvement". Mr Obama said fresh satellite images of Russian forces inside Ukraine made its role "plain for the world to see".

Russia denies claims by Nato that more than 1,000 Russian troops are fighting with the separatists. It accuses Ukraine of attacking its own people. Nato is to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the crisis.

It follows Thursday's emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York. Pro-Russian separatists have recently opened a new front in the conflict, seizing the south-eastern coastal town of Novoazovsk.

It has raised fears that the Kremlin might want to create a land corridor between Russia and Crimea - a territory annexed by Russia from Ukraine in March.