(Reuters) – Ukraine released a video of captured Russian soldiers on Tuesday, sharply escalating a dispute over Moscow’s alleged backing for separatist rebels in the east of the former Soviet republic.
The footage was released only hours before the two countries’ presidents were due to meet for the first time since June to discuss the conflict, which has killed more than 2,000 people and provoked Western sanctions against Russia.
In Moscow, a military source told Russian news agencies that a group of soldiers had surrendered to Ukrainian forces after crossing the border by accident.
Ukraine rejected that explanation. “This wasn’t a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.
He also said separatists were attacking the southeastern border town of Novoazovsk “at this very minute” and Ukrainian forces had destroyed 12 armoured infantry vehicles in the area.
Twelve Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, he said, including four border guards who died when Russian Mi-24 helicopters attacked a frontier post in Luhansk region on Monday.
Russia has always denied assertions by Ukraine, backed by the United States and the European Union, that it has been sending arms and troops across the border to support the pro-Moscow separatists.
The latest dispute cast a further pall over Tuesday’s talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk, where presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine were meeting for the first time since a tense encounter in France on June 6.
“I hope the result of today’s meeting will be the achievement of an agreement that will bring peace to Ukrainian soil,” Poroshenko told reporters.
He held separate talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, the summit host.
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