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Russia Masterminding Ukraine Rebel Counteroffensive, NATO Says

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Photographer: Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Photographer: Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Russia has masterminded a counteroffensive by Ukrainian rebels, with well over 1,000 Russian troops operating inside Ukraine to man sophisticated weaponry and advise the separatists, according to NATO.

Rebel forces have opened a second front in southern Ukraine, forcing Ukraine’s army to divert some of its firepower, Brigadier General Nico Tak told reporters at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s military headquarters in Mons, Belgium. The second front along the northern edge of the Sea of Azov could also be a prelude to establishing a land corridor with Crimea, the NATO officer said.

As Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency security meeting to defend against what he called a “de facto” Russian incursion, Tak cited evidence of Russian troops being killed in direct combat with Ukraine’s forces. Russia is positioning some 20,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, rotating them to keep them battle-ready, he said.

Tak said the fast-moving military developments are part of a Russian strategy to prevent a defeat of separatist forces, a response to military advances made by Ukrainian troops in the eastern strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk beginning in July. Russia has implemented methods of coercion and subversion in the region in addition to conventional warfare methods, he said.

Russia’s “aim is to freeze this conflict for a long period of time,” Tak said. “It’s likely that the situation will end in a stalemate. The foothold that's been created will be expanded and secured so that the separatists will not suffer a defeat.”

Satellite Images

NATO released satellite images today that it says show Russian forces engaged in military operations in Ukraine.

Tak said NATO has “detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defense systems, artillery, tanks, and armored personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.”

Russia has repeatedly denied allegations that it’s involved in the fighting.

The NATO general, who referred to Russia’s presence as an incursion rather than invasion, said an opening of a second front is “extremely worrying” for Ukraine, placing government forces in a “dire situation” and raising the risk that military supply lines could be cut off.

Russia has brought T-72 tanks into the battle zone, which can inflict more damage than the T-64 tanks used previously, Tak said. A second planned humanitarian aid convoy may be used to resupply Russian troops with items such as food and water.

Poroshenko canceled a state visit to Turkey to coordinate Ukraine’s military response to the “sharp deterioration” of events in rebel-held territory, he said on his website today.

NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, canceled a planned briefing for reporters in Mons today shortly before it was to begin due to what aides said was pressing business. Tak took his place at the news conference.

To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net; Patrick Donahue in Berlin at pdonahue1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Leon Mangasarian, Chad Thomas

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