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Mons (Belgium) (28th August, 2014): Well over 1,000 Russian troops are operating inside Ukraine, marking a significant escalation of Moscow's military involvement in the country, NATO said on Thursday.
The alliance released satellite images it said showed Russian combat forces, armed with heavy weapons, engaged in military operations inside Ukrainian territory.
"Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia's military interference in Ukraine," Dutch Brigadier-General Nico Tak, head of NATO's crisis management centre, told reporters at NATO's military headquarters near Mons, Belgium.
"We assess well over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine," he said, referring to Russia's actions as "incursions" rather than an invasion. "They are supporting separatists (and) fighting with them."
NATO estimates Russia also has around 20,000 troops close to the Ukrainian border, Tak said.
"We have also detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defence systems, artillery, tanks and armoured personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in eastern Ukraine," he said.
Ukraine accused Russia on Thursday of bringing troops into the southeast of the country in support of pro-Moscow separatist rebels.
NATO ambassadors will hold an emergency meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart in Brussels on Friday at Kiev's request to discuss the situation, a NATO official said. NATO ambassadors will also meet separately on Friday.