Moscow continues to insist it's got nothing to do with the Russian soldiers and tanks that have entered Ukraine to bolster pro-Russian separatists, but Vladimir Putin today made a point to praise the separatists' military moves. They have "achieved serious successes in stopping the armed operation by Kiev," said the Russian president in a message on the Kremlin website, reports Reuters. He also urged the rebels to let trapped Ukrainian soldiers retreat safely, reports the AP: "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, 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."
The rebels appear ready to comply with what the New York Times calls a "rare direct address" from Putin. "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," said one leader. NATO, meanwhile, accused Russia of a "blatant violation" of its neighbor's sovereignty, reports the BBC, much as President Obama did yesterday. Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen dismissed Moscow's "hollow denials" that it hadn't deliberately sent troops over the border. Further sanctions will be on the table at an EU summit this weekend. (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)