Kiev: Ukrainian troops on Monday were battling a Russian tank contingent in the eastern city of Lugansk, Kiev said, accusing Moscow’s army units of moving into large cities in the region.
“The battle between Ukrainian paratroopers and a reinforced tank battalion of the Russian armed forces is continuing with the goal of controlling the Lugansk airfield,” military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin wrote on his Facebook page.
But from Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the European Union (EU) also on Monday to show “common sense” and not to engage in mutually destructive sanctions, in his first reaction to the threat of additional punitive measures over Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Valeriy Geletey further said that Russian units are moving into other towns in the region, including the largest city of the region Donetsk.
“The information that Russian troops are there has been confirmed,” he said.
“We are fighting Russia and it is Russia which is deciding what will happen in Donbass,” he told Ukraine’s Inter channel late on Sunday, referring to the informal name of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
“We are holding talks not with terrorists but with representatives of the Kremlin,” he added.
Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have in recent days seized large swathes of territory, with Kiev saying the offensive has been reinforced with a larger than ever influx of Russian weaponry and troops.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization accused Moscow of sending 1,000 regular troops across the border, a large part of which is no longer controlled by Kiev.
Moscow has denied sending soldiers into Ukraine, saying paratroopers detained by Kiev about 20 kilometers from the Russian border got there by accident.
Fighting between Kiev’s army and the insurgency has killed over 2,600 people since mid-April.
Putin makes appeal
From Moscow, Putin made an appeal for the EU to rethink new economic sanctions against Russia.
“I hope that common sense will prevail, … that we will work together normally and that we and our partners will not cause harm by poking at one another,” Putin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies during a visit to the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk.
The remarks came a day after EU leaders gave Russia a week to reverse course in Ukraine or face a new round of sanctions.
Russian officials have said previously that they were preparing countermeasures in case of new Western sanctions, after having last month banned most EU and US food imports.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier on Monday said that Russia would not “slam the door shut” on Western trade nor exit from the World Trade Organization.
“We will, above all, proceed from our own interests, defend our economy, defend our social system, defend our businesses…” Lavrov told Moscow university students.
Sanctions threats and reports of Russian tanks being involved in fighting outside of Lugansk sent the ruble to a new record low of 37.4527 in late morning trading.
It also sank to a five-month low of 49.1795 to the euro.
Russian stocks were also lower in early afternoon trading, with the ruble-denominated MICEX index shedding 0.33 percent and the dollar-denominated RTS slumping 1.30 percent after sharper falls on Friday.