A day after Russian troops reportedly aided rebel separatists in the capture of strategic Ukrainian towns, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the rebels to release captured Ukrainian soldiers to avoid further bloodshed. In a statement released on the Kremlin website (via AP), Putin wrote:
I'm calling on insurgents to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who were surrounded in order to avoid senseless deaths."
Putin also showed the rebels some love:
Alexander Zakharchenko, a rebel spokesman, responded on Russian state television by thanking Putin and saying the release of the soldiers would only come under certain conditions:
With all our respect to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of a country which gives us moral support, we are ready to open humanitarian corridors to the Ukrainian troops who were surrounded with the condition that they surrender heavy weaponry and ammunition so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future."
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continued to issue denials about the involvement of the Russian military in Thursday's violence, even as President Obama accused Russia in a press conference yesterday. As Lavrov told Interfax: “We do not hear such speculations for the first time, but the USA occupied them never with facts.”
Despite this, the case file showing proof of Russia's involvement continues to grow thicker as images of what are believed to be Russian military apparatuses were shown by NATO. As the Washington Post reported:
Buttressing the Ukrainian accounts, NATO released satellite images Thursday of what it said were Russian artillery, vehicles and troops in and around eastern Ukraine. One image showed what NATO officials said was a convoy with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, inside territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, on Aug. 21.
Lavrov responded to the release of those images on Friday as well, saying "Those are only computer games.”