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Wednesday 17th September 2014
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Ukraine: The Story On The Russian Soldiers

Tuesday, 26th August 2014 12:46

We don?t know what sort of duress these men may be speaking under, or what they have been told to say, but their accounts seem to be telling broadly the same story.

They say that they did not know they were crossing into Ukraine, that they were told they were taking part in a military drill and several describe how they painted over their military number plates accordingly.

One man is asked what he would like to say to his commanders and to President Putin?  "Everything is a lie," he replies.

Another says they have come here "as cannon fodder".

He shows his military identity tag and reads out his service number.

"We are simple lads here," he says. "We do what they tell us."

All of the men identify themselves as paratroopers from the 331st regiment of the 98th airborne division, based in central Russia.

The footage has clearly been edited, there are jump cuts in places but, interestingly, Russia does not deny that these are its servicemen, on Ukrainian soil.

A defence ministry source told Russian news agencies this morning that the soldiers had been taking part in patrolling a section of the Russia-Ukrainian border, that they had crossed it "most likely by accident" in an unmarked section.

But these men, at least according to Ukraine's State Security Service, were not detained a few hundred metres across the border ? they say they were captured near the village of Dzerkalne, between 20 and 30km (12-18 miles) from the border into Ukrainian territory, approximately 50km (31 miles) south-east of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

At best, that would be a very embarrassing navigational failure for the paratroopers who are seen as an elite regiment Russian military regiment.

At worst, it's a significant escalation.

The US Embassy in Moscow just posted this on its official twitter feed: "Weekend incursion indicates Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts."

It?s hardly the ideal backdrop to talks between Presidents Putin and Poroshenko in Minsk today.

That they are talking at all is significant.

This will be their first direct meeting, the last was an impromptu doorway chat engineered by Germany's Chancellor Merkel at a D-day commemoration ceremony in June.

But it's difficult to see there will be much common ground and all sides have been lowering expectations on a breakthrough.

Russia wants an unconditional ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement with rebels in the East.

Ukraine has long claimed Russia is supporting and arming those rebels. Capturing Russian paratroopers on its territory is unlikely to convince them that they are not.