Ukraine crisis: Photographs 'show Russian troops' in eastern Ukraine

Ukraine claims Russian 'special forces troops' are in government buildings seized by separatists

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The Independent US

The US State Department has released photographs which Kiev officials claim prove that Russia has deployed "special forces" in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine officials handed the documents to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe last week to denounce the presence of Russian troops in government buildings seized by militiamen. The photos have since been distributed by the US state department.

The 11-page document contains images of soldiers in  Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine wearing similar uniforms and brandishing Russian weapons. Their authenticity could not be independently verified by The Independent.

One set of photographs focuses on a bearded man who appears to have been photographed in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine this year. He was also photographed in an image taken in Georgia in 2008. Another set of photographs show another militant in eastern Ukraine, and in a family photo of a Russian special forces group.

The US State Department said the photographs help bolster claims of ties between Russia and armed militiamen in eastern Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied it has deployed Russian units, special services or instructors in eastern Ukraine. Last Thursday, President Vladimir Putin rejected accusations that Moscow is fomenting unrest in the region.

ukraine3.jpgThe photographs come after a shootout erupted at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian insurgents in Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine killed three people and triggered a new round of recriminations between Kiev and Moscow on Sunday.

While the Ukraine government said it was the fault of provocateurs from outside the country, the Russian foreign ministry placed the blame on so-called Ukrainian nationalists, the Right Sector, which later denied being involved in the shooting.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov accused Kiev of violating the Geneva accord signed last week, in which all sides agreed to de-escalate the situation and called on the illegal groups of militiamen that have seized government buildings to vacate the premises.

Kiev fears Russian forces could enter the country and seize more Ukrainian territory under the pretext of maintaining peace in the region.

Meanwhile, US vice president Joe Biden has arrived in Ukraine in a show of support for the new political leaders of Ukraine against "humiliating threats". In the most high-level visit of a US official since the crisis erupted, Mr Biden said the Obama administration stands with Ukraine and is ready to provide assistance.