Russia's Putin brands Ukraine army a 'NATO proxy' as fighting flares
President Vladimir Putin on Monday ridiculed the Ukrainian army as NATO's 'foreign legion', ignoring Western pressure on the Kremlin to rein in a pro-Russian insurgency that has gone on the offensive across eastern Ukraine.
Moscow: President Vladimir Putin on Monday ridiculed the Ukrainian army as NATO's "foreign legion", ignoring Western pressure on the Kremlin to rein in a pro-Russian insurgency that has gone on the offensive across eastern Ukraine.
Putin's comments came as an emergency meeting of the Western alliance's NATO-Ukraine Commission was called to discuss a surge in fighting that has led to a spate of civilian casualties and rapidly growing pressure on Ukraine's troubled military.
Another 12 people were reported killed today, including seven Ukrainian soldiers, as Kiev accused the pro-Russian rebels of firing more than 100 times over the past day on both military positions and civilian areas.
Fighting was said to be particularly intense near the government-held city of Debaltseve, halfway between the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk, where the military said separatists were attacking with tanks and multiple rocket launchers.
Putin, on a visit to Saint Petersburg, claimed Ukrainian men wanted to flee to Russia because they did not want to become "cannon fodder" in an army that he described as mostly "voluntary nationalist battalions".
"In essence, this is not an army, this is a foreign legion -- in this particular case NATO's foreign legion, which of course does not pursue the objective of serving Ukraine's national interests," Putin said.
He said the aim was "Russia's containment" and that the Ukrainian government was not interested in a peaceful settlement.
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg later dismissed the comments as "nonsense".
Western governments and Kiev accuse Moscow of arming, training and fighting alongside the rebels. Russia denies any direct involvement, although ever-growing sightings of sophisticated heavy weapons being used against Ukrainian forces has stretched the credibility of those denials.
The unravelling of a September truce deal has picked up pace in the last few days, with the main rebel leader in the Donetsk region last week announcing he would no longer take part in peace talks and planned to seize more territory.
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