News / Europe

    Putin: Ukraine Army in Fact ‘NATO Legion’

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with students while visiting the National Mineral Resources University in St. Petersburg, Jan. 26, 2015.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with students while visiting the National Mineral Resources University in St. Petersburg, Jan. 26, 2015.
    VOA News

    Russian President Vladimir Putin says a "NATO legion" is fighting against rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, and that its goal is to contain Russia.

    “We often say: Ukrainian army, Ukrainian army. But who is really fighting [in eastern Ukraine]? There are official divisions of the armed forces but to a great extent there are so-called voluntary nationalist battalions. This is not even an army, it's a foreign legion. In this case it's a foreign NATO legion,” Putin said, speaking before university students in the city of St. Petersburg.

    Separatists Area of Control in UkraineSeparatists Area of Control in Ukraine
    Separatists Area of Control in Ukraine
    Separatists Area of Control in Ukraine

    “[They are there] with the aim of geopolitically containing Russia, which is absolutely not in the national interests of the Ukrainian people,” he said.

    Putin also accused Kyiv of refusing to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine peacefully.

    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Putin's claim as "nonsense."

    "The statement that there is a NATO legion in Ukraine is nonsense. There is no NATO legion," Stoltenberg said Monday, speaking to reporters following an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. "The foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian," he added.

    ‘Stop destabilizing Ukraine’

    Stoltenberg also called on Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and join efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in the country’s east.

    “We call on Russia to stop its support for the separatists immediately, to stop destabilizing Ukraine and to respect its international commitments,” said he.

    Ukrainian servicemen guard their position in the village of Luhanska, Luhansk region, Jan. 24, 2015.Ukrainian servicemen guard their position in the village of Luhanska, Luhansk region, Jan. 24, 2015.
    Ukrainian servicemen guard their position in the village of Luhanska, Luhansk region, Jan. 24, 2015.
    Ukrainian servicemen guard their position in the village of Luhanska, Luhansk region, Jan. 24, 2015.

    The extraordinary meeting was reportedly called at Ukraine’s request in the wake of a recent attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Donetsk region. The Saturday attack, which targeted residential areas, killed 30 civilians and wounded around 100.

    “The attack was launched from territory controlled by separatists backed by Russia,” Stoltenberg said.

    The NATO chief added that in recent weeks Russia has supplied the rebels with hundreds of pieces of advanced equipment, including rocket systems, heavy artillery, tanks, armored vehicles and electronic warfare systems.

    Honor Minsk agreements

    Stoltenberg called on “all parties to continue all efforts without delay to achieve a peaceful solution, in full conformity with the Minsk agreements,” referring to a truce deal signed by the warring sides in September, and adding that “NATO continues its full support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders."

    Ukraine is not a NATO member but has upped its cooperation with the alliance since Russia annexed Crimea in March of last year. NATO has also set up several trust funds to help Ukraine improve its security forces in the face of what Kyiv and the West see as a Moscow-instigated rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

    Earlier Monday, Ukraine's military said seven of its soldiers had been killed in the past day during renewed fighting. Officials say at least 24 soldiers have been wounded in the violence.

    The recent escalation in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels in the east has prompted Ukraine's government put the country on high alert Monday.

    Possible violation of international law

    Later Monday, United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council during an emergency meeting on Ukraine that since Mariupol, site of the Saturday rocket attacks, lies outside of the "immediate conflict zone" in eastern Ukraine, the conclusion can be drawn "that the entity which fired these rockets knowingly targeted a civilian population."

    That, he said, would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law, for which the perpetrators must be brought to justice.  

    "Mariupol lies outside of the immediate conflict zone. The conclusion can thus be drawn that the entity which fired these rockets knowingly targeted a civilian population. This would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. We must send an unequivocal message. The perpetrators must be held accountable and brought to justice," Feltman said.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the rebels in eastern Ukraine had acted with the aim of destroying Ukrainian military positions from which he said heavy weapons were firing on populated areas.  He said "tragedies" like the rocket attack in Mariupol are being used to fuel "anti-Russian hysteria."

    Specter of new sanctions

    One senior U.S. official tells VOA Russia is “shamelessly inserting people and equipment" -- just enough to keep Ukraine from stabilizing.

    For now though, the U.S. response is likely to be more economic sanctions.

    "We have more tools. I am not today going to enumerate what the tools are, but we have more tools," Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Monday.

    Lew says Russia is already being hit with some of the most sophisticated sanctions ever designed -- taking a big toll on the Russian economy.

    But U.S. Democratic Senator Christoper Murphy says the use of sanctions is no longer enough.

    “I now believe we have to provide some significant level of defensive armaments to the Ukraine military," he said. "I think that they are at a point when they can operationalize that technology. I hope that will be a part of the discussion in the coming weeks and months.”

    On Sunday in expressing concern about the Mariupol attack and what he sees as Russian backing of the separatists, U.S. President Obama said he would "ratchet up" pressure on Moscow.

    "We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the [Ukrainian] cease-fire and the aggression that these separatists, with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops, are conducting. And we will continue to take the approach that we have taken in the past, which is to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, and I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue."

    Some European leaders have recently talked of easing economic sanctions against Moscow.  But Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who currently serves as president of the European Union, tweeted in a message, "Once again, appeasement encourages the aggressor to greater acts of violence. Time to step up our policy based on cold facts, not illusions."

    EU foreign ministers are to discuss the latest violence in Ukraine on Thursday.

    VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some material for this report came from Reuters.

    • Ukrainians carry a coffin bearing the body of Olga Abdurashitiva, who was killed Saturday during an attack in Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 26, 2015.
    • Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Valentyn Nalyvaichenko speaks during news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 26, 2015.
    • Residents collect materials to cover broken windows after Saturday's attack in Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 26, 2015.
    • People visit their relatives at an emergency hospital after the shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 26, 2015.
    • Ukrainian parliament lawmaker and leader of Ukraine's Radical Party Oleh Lyashko, second left, greets Ukrainian soldiers near the town of Volnovakha, eastern Ukraine, Jan. 25, 2015.
    • A piece of an exploded Grad missile  outside an apartment building in Vostochniy, Mariupol, Ukraine, Jan. 25, 2015.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 2
    by: Karolina from: Oslo
    January 29, 2015 9:08 PM
    What Russia does in Ukraine is NOTHING comparing to what Israel did and is still doing to Palestinians. Why there are no sanctions on Israel? Dirty political play and double moral. Comparing to Natanyahu Putin is a cuty pie !

    by: joe from: fla/usa
    January 28, 2015 11:11 AM
    I believe everything he said. they are there, because they are 'Nuts'...They wanna be on the Russian front again,like before,so they can freeze to death in a fox hole,or die,miserably,for nothing...makes sense,Nicht-Wahr?
    In Response

    by: Joey
    January 28, 2015 1:33 PM
    Well as long as you believe it, we must contested even everything in view is conjecture and baseless hearsay. sure.

    by: nathan from: not russia
    January 27, 2015 2:50 PM
    I read these comments and I wonder if someone really lives in boston or canada why do they refer "western" as if they are not in the west? A bunch of russian trolls trying to convince idiots that russia is somehow acting with ukraines best interests.... IF THE UKRANIAN PEOPLE WANTED TO BE APART OF RUSSIA THEY WOULDN"T HAVE KICKED OUT THEIR PREVIOUS PRESIDENT. PUTIN IS A-HOLE SURROUNDED BY CRIMINALS WHO BRAINWASHES HIS COUNTRYMEN BY CONTROLING THE MEDIA AND EITHER JAILING OR MURDERING ANYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH HIM.

    by: ramp from: michigan
    January 27, 2015 2:49 PM
    lets stop dragging ourfeet like obama and congress

    by: john smith from: chicago
    January 27, 2015 1:49 PM
    Funny, how Putin seems to know what Ukrainians want. Putin is using the same techniques an abuser uses in an abusive relationship with a spouse. Putin is a bully, an abuser, and an unrepentant thug!
    In Response

    by: Michael
    January 27, 2015 2:41 PM
    Funny how you know what Ukrainians want. Thanks for deciding what Putin is with a baseless analogy.

    by: Shiva from: Canada
    January 27, 2015 10:54 AM
    War means pain, sufferings and destruction. Why would the political leaders join groups like NATO or against other nations? Western colonialism brought us untold human sufferings, loss of life, loss of freedom and our independence. West is responsible for many of the human tragedies as they merged nations together for easy administration and left it as merged when they left those shores. Western political greediness and double standard policies should end to bring peace and stability on earth. Small nations are more peaceful than merged ones.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 27, 2015 2:53 PM
    you're not from canada

    by: Face it from: Boston
    January 27, 2015 8:56 AM
    No one wants to be part of nato at a cost of this conflict brought no one. Not one Ukrainian. Wants to loose his family in a war to be part of nato. Specially now after we see that the only people who now still want to be part of nato. Is the now illegal and non elected govermment. Who is up for shelling their own Ukrainians w the help from nato. While russia is trying to help civilians facing an army. Thats why so many volunteers from russia are fighting in Ukraine. Their Russian speaking friends are getting killed in their own country. It's genicide of Russian speaking people in Ukraine. I just don't get why nato supports it. And what country would want to be a part of an alliance that is for war and genocide. Who sends their troops to fight civilians in one of the biggest cities in europe

    by: Face it from: Boston
    January 27, 2015 8:49 AM
    Wait so Lithuanian soldiers Polish soldiers and other nato soldiers fighting for Ukrainian army is not called natos army's? I thought that these countries that are sending soldiers to Ukraine are in nato. Unless I'm getting the news I read a couple days ago about Lithuanians sending troops to ukraine and it was a lie. Or they aren't part of nato which they are
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 27, 2015 2:55 PM
    Same reason Russian Soldiers aren't fighting in the Ukraine but Russian soldiers keep dying there?!?.....
    p.s. You're not in Boston commie

    by: StskiCanUke from: canada
    January 27, 2015 5:56 AM
    Russia has invaded Ukraine and is supporting prorussian terrorists. These same prorussian terrorists have murdered 30 in Mariuopol and 300 on MH17 including 80 children. The true face of Russia has been shown. This country must come to terms with Putler and its Stalinist past. Until then it will be a delusional society clinging to a hopeless dream of imperial glory.

    by: Ivanov from: Russia
    January 27, 2015 12:43 AM
    is waste to time for read comments of this news! ukrane is lost and should all move on and allow the ukrane to live in peace under putin. we will destroy ukrane language and ukranes will be happy russians again. they were lost, but now are found. i know is from song, good to compare and it make me laugh.
    In Response

    by: herman from: canada
    January 28, 2015 7:39 PM
    Ivanov, just wonder how much you got paid by your boss Putin to be a lousy mouthpiece and voice your nonsense comment in Voice of America. Are you hoping Putin going to sent you to work for RT in US.
    In Response

    by: StskiCanUke from: canada
    January 27, 2015 5:58 AM
    Russian troll. Dont waste time with genocidal lunatics like Ivanov.
    Comments page of 2

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