MOSCOW - Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Friday called on pro-Russian separatists fighting government troops in eastern Ukraine to release Ukrainian soldiers who have been surrounded by the rebels.
Putin's statement came several hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers lashed out at Moscow for lying about its role and dangerously escalating the conflict.
NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and later released what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week
"I'm calling on insurgents to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who were surrounded in order to avoid senseless deaths," Putin said in the statement published on the Kremlin's web-site in the early hours on Friday. He did not address the claims about Russia's military presence in Ukraine.