Despite Western claims that Russia is backing separatist rebels in Ukraine and has sent its own troops over the border, Moscow has again insisted that it won’t intervene militarily.
Speaking to students in the capital, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called for an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” to be discussed during crisis talks in Belarus today.
“There will be no military intervention,” Lavrov said.
“ We are exclusively in favour of a peaceful solution to this terrible crisis, to this tragedy, and everything we do is to seek a political solution to the conflict.”
The talks in Minsk will bring together representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE security forum and separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
As President Putin urged talks on the “statehood” of southern and eastern Ukraine, his counterpart in Kyiv, Petro Poroshenko, accused Russia of launching “direct and open aggression”.
Ukraine now says it has had to pull troops back from defending the airport in the eastern city of Luhansk, after they were faced with a “batallion of Russian tanks”.
And Ukrainian troops and local residents are reinforcing the port of Mariupol, the next big city in the path of pro-Russian fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea last week in an offensive on a new front.