Barack Obama accused Russia of “repeatedly and deliberately” violating the territory of Ukraine and warned Moscow that it was now more isolated than at any time since the Cold War.
Speaking after the US had lambasted Russia in an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, the US President said that the “ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia”, but said that would not involve US military action.
“The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia. Russia has repeatedly and deliberately violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see,” Mr Obama said.
While he did not use the word “invasion”, others were more blunt with Lithuania’s UN Ambassador, Raimonda Murmokaite, tweeting ahead of the Security Council meeting: “An invasion is an invasion is an invasion.”
Video: President Obama's press conference on the Ukraine crisis
At the UN meeting, Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, reminded her fellow ambassadors that this was “the 24th session to try to rein in Russia’s aggressive acts in the Ukraine”. She said Russia’s force along the border is the largest it has been since the Kremlin started deploying troops in late May.
“A Russian soldier who chooses to fight in Ukraine on summer break is still a Russian soldier,” she said.
She added that Moscow “has manipulated, it has obfuscated, it has outright lied” throughout.
Ukraine crisis: Russian 'aid' convoy
Ukraine crisis: Russian 'aid' convoy
1/11 Ukraine crisis
Drivers of the first trucks of the Russian aid convoy parked in the city of Luhansk on 22 August
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An employee inspects the contents of a truck with Russian humanitarian aid in Mariupol, Ukraine on 22 August 2014
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The convoy nearing the border before it parked at a camp in Russia
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Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moving along a road in the city of Voronezh, about 530 km from Moscow, Russia
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An Ukrainian border guard checks passing cars at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border
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Ukrainian border guards stand at the Ukrainian-Russian border crossing
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Trucks of a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine are parked at the military air base outside Voronezh
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Drivers of a Russian convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine take a rest on a side of a road near the city of Yelets
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An Ukrainian soldier stands guard at a checkpoint of Pletnyovka, Kharkiv region on Ukraine-Russia border, where Russian humanitarian convoy is to cross the border
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A Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in rebel eastern Ukrainian regions moves along a road about 50 km from Voronezh, Russia, 14 August 2014. The convoy continues to advance through Russian territory after a one-day stop in Voronezh in full coordination with and under the aegis of the Red Cross, according to Russian authorities
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The Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid in the Voronezh region of Russia en route to Ukraine
The Russian Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, hit back, saying Ukraine was “waging war against its own people”, but did not deny that his country’s soldiers were in Ukraine.
“There are Russian volunteers in eastern parts of Ukraine. No one is hiding that,” he said. But he questioned the presence of Western advisers and asked where Ukrainian troops were getting weapons.
Mr Churkin said he wanted to “send a message to Washington: stop interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states”.
The Baltic states in particular worry that Russia might start interfering in their affairs. Each has significant populations of ethnic Russians.
The Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, was quoted as saying his government would support an increase in Nato’s military presence in countries near Russia. “If Poland or the Baltic states would wish it, then we would support such an initiative,” he said. “After the Russian annexation of Crimea, we understand the worries of the Nato member countries directly bordering Russia or having a Russian minority on their territory.”
Yet another emergency meeting about the crisis – of ambassadors from the 28 Nato countries and Ukraine – was due to be held today.
The presence of Russian forces in Ukraine finally became open today, although Kiev was reluctant to use the word “invasion”.
That prompted Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to scrap a visit to Turkey for the inauguration of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and call an emergency session of his country’s security council.
“I have decided to cancel my visit because of the sharp escalation of the situation in the Donetsk region... as Russian forces have entered Ukraine,” he said.
Russian mercenary forces have long been suspected of supporting pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region, but recent Ukrainian military successes have forced Russia to become more overt.
The appearance of Russian troops in south-east Ukraine is similar to the appearance of the “green men” in Crimea which preceded the Russian takeover.
A Nato officer told reporters at its headquarters in Mons in Belgium: “Well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine. They are supporting separatists [and] fighting with them.” The officer showed reporters a satellite picture, dated 23 August, of Russian self-propelled artillery lined up inside eastern Ukraine.
“This is highly sophisticated equipment which requires a well-trained crew. It takes months to train crews like that. It’s extremely unlikely these sorts of units are manned by separatists,” he said.
“Russia is trying to prevent a defeat of the separatists and wants to hold on to this area. The recent upsurge and now direct involvement of Russian troops inside Ukraine is aimed at this.”
Alexander Zakharchenko, Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Reuters that about 3,000 Russian volunteers were serving in the rebel ranks.
“Today we reached the Sea of Azov, the shore, and the process of liberating our land, which is temporarily occupied by the Ukrainian authorities, will keep going further and further,” Mr Zakharchenko said in Donetsk, the main rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine. “Taking [the port city of] Mariupol, the second-biggest town in Donetsk region, will allow us to expand our units by another five or seven thousand.”
Additonal reporting by AP and Reuters