Over 1,000 Russian Soldiers Join Fight, NATO Says

Two other photographs released by NATO show self-propelled guns that are on Russian territory but pointed at Ukraine. “This is clearly not an exercise,” NATO said. “These guns are being used to support separatist forces operating in the territory of Ukraine.”

“For months, Russia has provided separatist fighters with heavy equipment in the form of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and multiple rocket launchers,” NATO said. Even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, an attack that killed all 298 aboard and appeared to have been carried out with a Russian antiaircraft missile, NATO said, “Air defense systems have also been provided to separatists.”

Russia is also supplying the separatists with arms from such locations, NATO said.

A third photo shows the Russian military buildup, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, near the Russian city of Rostov. NATO said there were multiple Russian military camps in the area and that some Russian forces were based within a few miles of Ukraine and could attack with little warning.

“This configuration is exactly how trained military professions would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers,” NATO said in a captioned description of the photograph. “Russian artillery systems like these have recently shelled Ukrainian positions outside the city of Luhansk in conjunction with a separatist counteroffensive to attempt to break the Ukrainian siege of the city.”

Another dated Aug. 23 shows Russian self-propelled artillery units in firing positions near Krasnodon. Near the artillery units are logistical vehicles that NATO said were probably carrying ammunition.

One photograph, dated Aug. 21, shows a Russian military convoy with self-propelled artillery moving in the Krasnodon area inside Ukraine.

This is the first time that NATO has made public photographic evidence to corroborate its assertions that Russian military units have been firing artillery from inside Ukraine.

The photos were taken by DigitalGlobe, a commercial firm, and have not been altered, NATO said in a statement. Two of the photos were described in an article Wednesday in The New York Times, before they were publicly released.

A Ukrainian separatist commander asserted on Thursday that Russian soldiers inside Ukraine were merely volunteers who had joined the rebels while on leave. NATO said the photographs show organized Russian military units, equipped with artillery and other heavy equipment.

General Tak told reporters that “well over” 1,000 Russian soldiers were now operating in Ukraine and that the Russian military was actively involved in the fighting.

“The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with heavy weapons, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said in a statement.

“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brig. Gen. Nico Tak of the Netherlands, a senior officer in NATO’s military command.

WASHINGTON — NATO released photographs on Thursday that it said shows Russian artillery units operating in Ukraine, and asserted that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had now joined the separatists fighting there against the Ukrainian armed forces.

Russia’s Biggest Bank Is Lending Cats

All in all, it might be easier to borrow the neighbor’s cat—and wait for the day when Russian banks start offering smartphones, gift certificates, or even toasters to new clients.

Some conditions are attached to the cat-delivery offer, spelled out in eight pages of fine print  available on its website. The service will be offered to only the first 30 customers who take out home loans of a minimum $116,000 during the period of the promotion, from mid-August to mid-December. Fifteen of the customers will be in the Moscow area and the remaining 15 in other parts of the country, spokeswoman Vakhlamova says. They’ll get to keep the cats in their homes for only two hours.

Borrowing is getting more expensive, though. Russia’s central bank has been raising interest rates, and last month Sberbank increased the rate on most mortgage loans to a minimum 12.5 percent. The bank, which is more than 50 percent government-owned, also faces pressure because it has been placed on U.S. and European Union sanction lists that limit its ability to raise funds in those jurisdictions.

Sberbank may not need cats to attract prospective borrowers. As the ruble plummets, many Russians are scrambling to put their savings into real estate. The government’s Agency for Housing Mortgage Lending predicts that new home loans this year could reach a record $41 billion to $50 billion. Sberbank (SBER:RM)reported today that its second-quarter profit rose 13 percent, as consumer lending rose 11 percent, to $87 billion.

The cats are owned by individuals, including Sberbank employees, “who agreed to let their pets participate in special projects,” Anastasia Vakhlamova, a bank spokeswoman, told Bloomberg Businessweek. The bank started receiving requests for loaner cats “immediately after the launch of the special project” in mid-August, she says.

A video on the site shows new homeowners beaming with delight as Sberbank deliverymen release cats into their apartments. The cats mostly look bewildered.

According to Russian superstition, letting a cat walk through your new home before you move in brings good luck. “Order a cat for your housewarming, and bring happiness and luck to your home,” the state-controlled bank says on a special Cat Delivery Service website it set up to promote the campaign. Customers can choose among 10 breeds, including tabbies, Siamese, and an exotic hairless cat resembling a sphinx.

Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, is offering to lend cats to customers who take out home mortgages. Yes, cats.

EU widens aid to dairy exporters hit by Russia food ban

“In a number of member states, export earnings are being lost and new outlets need to be found. The European dairy sector needs time and help to adapt so I am announcing today targeted market support, focusing on milk powder, butter and exported cheeses. If needed, further measures will follow.”

EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos said “price signals on the European dairy market show that the Russian ban is starting to hit this sector”.

The Kremlin denies allegations that it is supplying troops and equipment to the rebels.

The wide-ranging sanctions are aimed at forcing the Kremlin to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On 7 August Russia announced an embargo on most food imports from the EU, US, Canada, Norway, Australia and Japan, in retaliation for Western sanctions over Ukraine.

The biggest EU dairy exporters to Russia in 2013 were: the Netherlands (301m euros), Finland (253m), Germany (184m) and Lithuania (160m).

Russia’s actions in Ukraine triggered the trade dispute.

The European Commission will help pay storage costs for butter and skimmed milk powder. EU aid will also extend to certain cheeses. Last year EU cheese sales to Russia were nearly 1bn euros.

The move follows EU aid worth 125m euros (£100m; $170m) announced earlier for fruit and vegetable exporters.

The EU has announced emergency help for dairy producers hit by the Russian ban on food imports from the EU.

UN Security Council Meets on Ukraine Crisis

UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that “Russia will be asked to explain why Russia has its troops inside Ukraine. It’s very clear that Russian regular troops are now in Ukraine.”

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin told reporters “You’re at a loss” as he walked into a morning council session and gave no further comment.

Alarm has grown as a top NATO official said at least 1,000 Russian troops have poured into Ukraine with sophisticated equipment and have been in direct “contact” with Ukrainian soldiers, resulting in casualties.

Diplomats said Thursday that the council will meet at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) at the request of Lithuania.

The U.N. Security Council is preparing to meet in emergency session on the growing crisis in Ukraine.

Russian tanks enter Ukraine, fire missiles at border post

Russian forces, she said, are being sent 48 kilometres inside Ukraine, without them or their families knowing where they are going. She cited reports of burials in Russia for those who have died in Ukraine and wounded Russian soldiers being treated in a St. Petersburg hospital.

“These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. She voiced concern about overnight deliveries of materiel in southeast Ukraine near Novoazovsk and said Russia was being dishonest about its actions, even to its own people.

The U.S. government accused Russia of orchestrating a new military campaign in Ukraine, helping rebel forces expand their fight and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armoured vehicles.

The leader of the insurgency, Alexander Zakharchenko, said in an interview on Russian state television that 3,000 to 4,000 Russians have fought on the separatist side since the armed conflict began in April.

Lysenko said the missiles from Russia were fired about 11 a.m. local time and about an hour and a half later, two columns, including tanks and other fighting vehicles began an attack. They entered Ukraine from Veselo-Voznesenka and Maximovo of the Rostov region in Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cancelled his visit to Turkey and called an emergency meeting of Ukraine’s security council after a ‘sharp aggravation’ of the conflict. (Mikhail Palinchak/The Associated Press)

Tak said the 1,000 Russian troops operating inside Ukraine was a conservative estimate and provided satellite imaginary showing an incursion of great sophistication. He refused to specify exactly what the “contact” with Ukrainian troops was.

NATO estimated that another 20,000 Russian troops were right over the Russian border.

Tak told reporters at NATO headquarters that the ultimate aim of Russia was to stave off defeat for the separatists and turn eastern Ukraine into a “frozen conflict” that would destabilize the country “indefinitely.”

Russian stock markets dived as fears grew that the country was escalating its role in the conflict, a move that could provoke the U.S. and European Union to impose further sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals. Russia’s MICEX index dropped nearly two per cent on Thursday, and major Russian state banks VTB and Sberbank dropped more than four per cent.

U.K. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that “Russia will be asked to explain why Russia has its troops inside Ukraine. It’s very clear that Russian regular troops are now in Ukraine.”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told reporters “You’re at a loss” as he walked into a morning council session and gave no further comment.

Alarm has grown as Brig.-Gen. Nico Tak, a top NATO official, said at least 1,000 Russian troops have poured into Ukraine with sophisticated equipment and have been in direct “contact” with Ukrainian soldiers, resulting in casualties.

The UN Security Council is also preparing to meet in emergency session. Diplomats said Thursday that the council will meet at 2 p.m. local time at the request of Lithuania.

“The president must stay in Kyiv today,” President Petro Poroshenko said.

“Russian troops were actually brought into Ukraine,” Ukraine’s president declared Thursday, cancelling a foreign trip and calling an emergency meeting of his security council.

The comments by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, and other statements from NATO, the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the United States left no doubt that the Russian military had invaded southeastern Ukraine.

Two columns of Russian tanks and military vehicles fired Grad missiles from Russia at a border post in southeastern Ukraine, then rolled into the country Thursday as its overmatched border guards fled, a top Ukrainian official said.