Putin mocks trapped Ukrainian soldiers, urges rebels to release them

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged separatists in eastern Ukraine to free surrounded Ukrainian soldiers, while comparing those soldiers unfavorably to the rebel volunteers.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  Aug. 29, 2014 at 8:21 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko ordered a reinstatement of national military conscription in response to what appears to be a full-scale Russian invasion.

The draft will encompass able-bodied men aged 18 to 25 as the influx of Russian support to separatists in eastern Ukraine has undone some of the advances made by Ukrainian forces in recent months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn't resist a dig at Ukraine's forces Friday, apparently mocking them for participating unwanted in the conflict, especially compared to the passionate involvement of the Russians who volunteered in lieu of taking their summer vacations.

"As a result of the militia's actions, a large number of Ukrainian service members who did not participate in the military operation of their own volition but while following orders have been surrounded," he said.

Putin criticized Ukraine's refusal to negotiate their safe passage as a "colossal mistake," and attempted a magnanimous tone as he urged separatists forces to allow the safe passage of Ukrainian military who had been surrounded.

"I call on the militia groups to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian service members who have been surrounded, so as to avoid any needless loss of life," Putin said, "giving them the opportunity to leave the combat area unimpeded and reunite with their families, to return them to their mothers, wives and children, and to quickly provide medical assistance to those who were injured in the course of the military operation."

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the rebel leader who made the "summer holidays" comments Thursday, quickly agreed to let the Ukrainians through.

"With all respect to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of the country, which has helped us very much with moral support, we are ready to grant humanitarian corridors to the Ukrainian divisions surrounded in these pockets," Zakharchenko said.

Russia's new brazenness was roundly criticized by the West. U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both said new action, likely in the form of expanded sanctions, would be discussed at the European Union and NATO summits next week.

"We agree -- if there was ever any doubt -- that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine," Obama said. "The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia."

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