TIME Australia

These Are Some of the Most Australian Political Sound Bites Ever

Prime Minister Holds Joint Press Conference In Sydney
Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks to the media at Sydney Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices on September 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Mark Metcalfe—Getty Images

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has threatened to knock Vladimir Putin to the ground. Hey, that's just another day in Aussie political discourse

“Look, I’m going to shirt-front Mr. Putin … You bet I am. I am going to be saying to Mr. Putin, ‘Australians were murdered. They were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment. We are very unhappy about this.’”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott isn’t exactly known for his oratory. But Russian President Vladimir Putin – and most Australians – were left scratching their heads over what exactly Abbott, who enjoyed a brief but successful stint as a heavyweight boxer, plans to do to the Russian leader’s shirt when he visits Australia for the G-20 meeting in Brisbane next month.

According to slangdictionary.org, shirt-fronting is a term from the Australian rules football code, and it happens when a player executes a “head-on charge aimed at bumping an opponent to the ground.” AFlrules.com.au adds that a shirt-front is “quite aggressive” and “illegal.”

Abbott’s comments were made in the context of increasingly loud calls to ban Putin from visiting Australia because of Russia’s apparent indifference to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July. Of the 298 passenger and crew who lost their lives in the disaster, 36 were Australian residents — making them the third largest group of nationals killed after the Dutch and Malaysians.

As a ninth-degree black-belt in taekwondo who could probably hold his own against Abbott, Putin did not dignify the Australian Prime Minister with a response.

While Abbott has since toned down his rhetoric, saying he simply plans to have a “robust conversation” with Putin, he is by no means the first Australian politician to put his foot in his mouth on the international stage. Products of a culture in which frankness is placed on a pedestal, spin-doctoring is despised and politics is sport, their propensity for speaking their mind is a large part of what endears them to the Australian public.

Here are some other famous gaffes uttered by Australian politicians over the years.

1. “The Chinese bastards”

“They’re communists, they shoot their own people, they haven’t got a justice system and they want to take over this country. I don’t mind standing up against the Chinese bastards and stopping them from doing it.” —Mining magnate and MP Clive Palmer during a live debate aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in September.

2. “Swamped by Asians”

“I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40% of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist, but if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.” —Former MP Pauline Hanson delivering her maiden speech to parliament in 1996.

3. “Islam as a country”

“I don’t oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia.” —Stephanie Banister, a candidate for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, during a interview with Channel 7 in the lead up to Australia’s 2013 federal election.

4. “Put him down”

“The Leader of the Opposition is more to be pitied than despised, the poor old thing. The Liberal Party of Australia ought to put him down like a faithful old dog because he is of no use to it and of no use to the nation.” —Treasurer Paul Keating to Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock, 1984

5. “Walk to Bourke”

“I would walk to [the New South Wales town of] Bourke backwards if the gay population of North Queensland is any more than 0.001%.” —MP Bob Katter in 1989. Katter’s half brother Carl later came out as gay.

6. “A bum”

“Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.” —Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, following Australia’s victory in the 1983 America’s Cup.

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TIME Ukraine

NATO Too Wary of Russian Threats to Let Ukraine Join

Petro Poroshenko
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a media conference during a NATO summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. Virginia Mayo—AP

Despite Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine, the U.S.-led alliance is keeping Kiev at a distance

With its aggression against Ukraine, Russia achieved in just a few months what Vadim Grechaninov has been trying to do for a decade. His mission as President of the Atlantic Council of Ukraine, a lobbying organization based in Kiev, has been to convince his country’s leaders, citizens and military officers that joining NATO is Ukraine’s only path to security. He never had much success. According to a Pew Research poll taken in 2009, a majority of Ukrainians—51%—opposed NATO membership, while only 28% supported it.

That dynamic is now being reversed. The most recent nationwide survey taken in July suggested that, for the first time in their post-Soviet history, a plurality of Ukrainians—44%—would favor joining the alliance that Russia sees as a strategic threat. When the Rating Group, a Ukrainian pollster, conducted the same survey in 2012, they found only 19% of respondents in favor of NATO accession. Ukraine’s new government has likewise embraced the idea, proposing a law last week that would clear the way for NATO membership. But Grechaninov, a retired major general of the Soviet army, is no more optimistic about his country joining the alliance today than he was five years ago, especially after watching the news that came out of the NATO leaders’ summit on Thursday. “They are still bending to Moscow’s demands,” he says of the alliance.

Those demands have been very explicit. The day President Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimean peninsula in March, he warned NATO not to “make itself at home in our backyard or in our historical territory.” As if that wasn’t clear enough, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov drove home the point on Thursday as the NATO summit commenced in Wales. Any attempt to draw Ukraine into the alliance, Lavrov said, would scuttle the fragile peace talks between the Ukrainian government and the separatist rebels whom Moscow has armed and supported since April. “The U.S. wants NATO to win,” Lavrov said in Moscow. “[It wants] a situation where America dictates its will to the whole world.” These ambitions, he added, “will lead to no good.”

A far more alarming message came on the eve of the summit from the Russian military. Yuri Yakubov, an influential general of the Russian army, told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that Russia would be amending its official military doctrine this year in light of “the approach of U.S. and NATO bases right up to our borders.” He said the revisions would identify the alliance as a “likely opponent” in a future conflict, and it would make some dramatic amendments to Russia’s nuclear strategy. “It is necessary to set out the conditions in which Russia could launch a preventative strike with Russia’s strategic nuclear forces,” he said. In its current form, the doctrine only envisions using nuclear weapons in response to a strike against Russia. It does not mention the possibility of a “preventative” nuclear attack.

This kind of rhetoric was, perhaps thankfully, nowhere to be found during the first day of the NATO summit. Putin’s recent reminder that Russia is “one of the strongest nuclear powers” did not come up in any of the public comments, and neither did the warning from General Yakubov about a preventative strike. The most concrete step NATO announced in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was the creation of a “very high readiness” force of several thousand troops that could be deployed near Russia’s borders in the course of about two days. (It took Russian forces no more than a day in late February to sweep into the capital of Crimea and help install a loyal government to prepare the annexation.)

The new rapid reaction force was meant to calm NATO members in Eastern Europe—namely Poland and the Baltic states—though it did not measure up to their demands. What the eastern allies wanted were permanent military bases to be built closer to Russia’s territory. But their allies in Western Europe, particularly Germany, shot down those requests, as they would break a pact that NATO made with Russia in 1997 not to station “permanent combat forces” near Russia’s borders. (It did not seem to matter that, with the conquest of Crimea, Russia broke the pledge it made to the U.S. and U.K. in 1994 never to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.) Asked at a press conference on Monday whether NATO’s new force would be permanent, its Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, “Actually very few things in life are permanent.” He added: “The bottom line is you will see more visible NATO presence in the East.”

There were, however, some more encouraging signs than that of NATO unity and assertiveness. The day before the summit, France agreed to halt the scheduled delivery next month of an aircraft carrier to Russia, saying that the conditions were “not right.” It took months of pressure from the U.S. and other allies for the French to stop the weapons transfer, though it is not clear whether France will go ahead with the sale of another warship to Russia next year.

In showing support for Ukraine, the allies also tried to make President Petro Poroshenko feel like the summit’s guest of honor. The leaders of NATO’s five most powerful members—the U.S., U.K., Germany, France and Italy—met with Poroshenko to discuss his country’s conflict with Russia, and they collectively pledged to create several “trust funds” worth about $16 million—a largely symbolic sum—to help modernize the Ukrainian military. But they stopped short of promising to provide Ukraine with any weapons, and they made no commitments to let Ukraine join the alliance at any point in the future.

Speaking by phone from Kiev, Grechaninov says he is disappointed, but not surprised. If Ukraine were to join NATO, every one of its members would be treaty-bound to defend Ukraine’s in case of a foreign attack, and none of the allies have been willing to risk that kind of confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. Grechaninov understands these fears, but he warns that the alliance is only delaying the inevitable. “Putin can only be stopped by a force greater than his,” he says. “We waited for this force from NATO, and they have it. They can stop Putin. But right now they don’t consider it,” he says, pausing to find the right word. “They don’t consider it expedient.”

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calls on Russia to pull back from the Crimea during a speech at the NATO Summit in Wales on Sept.4, 2014.

TIME Ukraine

Obama Says It’s ‘Too Early to Tell’ What the Ukraine Ceasefire Means

ESTONIA-US-OBAMA-DIPLOMACY
US President Barack Obama and the Estonian President (not in picture) review an honor guard during an arrival ceremony prior to meetings at the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, Estonia on Sept. 3, 2014. SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images

News of the truce broke shortly after the president's arrival in Estonia

President Barack Obama has adopted a cautious approach to the ceasefire announced Wednesday between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s too early to tell what this cease-fire means,” said Obama, explaining that he had not seen full details but “only wire reports.”

News of the ceasefire broke shortly after Obama’s arrival in Estonia, where he is showing support to a Baltic ally before traveling to a crucial NATO summit in the U.K. at which the Ukrainian situation feature high on the agenda.

Obama promised to address the Ukrainian ceasefire more fully during a speech later in the day. In the meantime, he noted that Russia’s forceful incursion into Ukraine served as a stark reminder of the importance of the NATO alliance.

“Obviously what’s happened in Ukraine is tragic but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that’s necessary to make sure that our NATO commitments are met. And that’s one of the reasons I’m here in Estonia today.”

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said “I just did hear that President Poroshenko and President Putin have agreed on a ceasefire. I just hope it holds.”

Speaking ahead of Obama’s arrival, at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia, Ilves said that the situation in Ukraine showed “that the principle of collective territorial defense hasn’t gone away,” according to the AP.

His remarks came a day after Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin security adviser, stated in Moscow that NATO remained Russia’s biggest threat.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Boasts of Being Able to Take Kiev in 2 Weeks

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 27, 2014 Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

The Kremlin doesn’t deny the stakes-raising comment but says it was taken out of context

Reports emerged Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could take control of Ukraine’s capital city in as little as two weeks, a remark that escalated already pitched tensions between Russia and the West in the lead-up to NATO’s summit in Wales.

Putin made the incendiary comment in a phone conversation with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, according to Barroso’s account, published by Italy’s La Repubblica on Monday.

Barroso said he asked Putin if Russian troops had crossed into eastern Ukraine, La Repubblica reports. “That is not the question,” Putin reportedly said. “But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks.”

The Kremlin did not deny that Putin made the statement, but insisted it was taken out of context.

“Whether these words were said or not, in my viewpoint, the quote given is taken out of context, and it had an absolutely different meaning,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said, Interfax reports. Ushakov blasted Barroso for making public the content of what the aide said was intended to be a private conversation.

This latest saber rattling comes as NATO officials prepare for a summit at which the alliance is expected to discuss its role in shoring up defenses in Eastern Europe, a perennial irritant for the Kremlin made especially urgent amid ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine.

[NYT]

TIME Ukraine

NATO Unveils Rapid-Response Force to Counter Russian Troops in Ukraine

Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014 in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gives a press on Sept. 1, 2014, in Brussels John Thys—AFP/Getty Images

The alliance plans to tackle “Russia’s aggressive behavior” with a new expeditionary force

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Monday that the organization was planning to assemble a “spearhead” force that would be able to “travel light but strike hard if needed” in the face of Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior in eastern Ukraine.

The new outfit would be manned by several thousand rotating allied troops who would be ready to respond by air or sea with the aid of special forces, explained Rasmussen.

“The Readiness Action Plan responds to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told reporters in Brussels. “It equips the alliance to respond to all security challenges, wherever they may arise.”

NATO representatives gathering for the Wales summit later this week are preparing a Readiness Action Plan to make the organization more agile.

Analysts said the announcement represents the strongest response yet from the military alliance since Russia began to forcefully intervene in Kiev’s affairs following the fall of the nation’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year.

“Actually, what has been announced seems to be quite significant in that NATO will start stationing troops quite close to Ukraine—not in the form of permanent bases but actually they will be rotating them in the form of temporary bases,” Clara Portela, assistant professor of political science at Singapore Management University and a sanctions specialist, told TIME.

“This is the first step that Western Europe has taken, in military terms, since the crisis started,” Portela said.

On Tuesday, Mikhail Popov, deputy head of the Russian Security Council, said the transatlantic alliance’s recent maneuvers demonstrate it remains among Moscow’s principal adversaries.

“I have no doubts that the issue of NATO military infrastructure encroaching on our borders, including through the expansion of the alliance, will remain among the biggest military threats to the Russian Federation,” Popov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Popov’s remarks came as Ukrainian forces continued to engage in heavy firefights with pro-Kremlin insurgents, who NATO claims are being buttressed by Russian hardware and troops.

On Monday, the Ukrainian military reportedly withdrew from the international airport at the rebel stronghold of Luhansk after suffering heavy fire from a Russian tank battalion, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the Ukrainian military is now assuming a much more defensive posture throughout the country’s southeast in order to beat back what Kiev fears is an all-out invasion of the country by the Russian military.

The tactical battlefield shift represents a sizable reversal in combat fortunes; Kiev looked poised to crush the separatist insurgency just weeks ago after forging large-scale inroads into rebel territory throughout the summer.

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Valeriy Heletey described the conflict this week as the most serious military engagement in Europe since the Second World War, one that could cost tens of thousands of lives.

“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II,” he said in a Facebook post.

According to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 4,445 people had been wounded and 1,830 people killed in eastern Ukraine as of Aug. 27.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week chided both government forces and insurgents for “contributing to rising civilian casualties” in and around Luhansk by unleashing artillery barrages that appear to be indiscriminate.

“Local residents are subjected to terrifying daily shelling, much of it apparently unlawful, and that the number of civilian casualties is steadily rising,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, in a statement.

TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warns Against Ukraine Travel

People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne (Snezhnoye), Donetsk region
People walk past a building damaged by shelling in Snizhne, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Aug. 29, 2014. Maxim Shemetov—Reuters

Escalating conflict in the region prompted the new travel advisory for Americans

The U.S. State Department warned Americans Friday to avoid traveling to eastern Ukraine, in response to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine’s armed forces and Russia-backed separatists.

“The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly,” the statement said. “U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.”

The announcement identified the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have been plagued with violent outbreaks for months, as the key areas to avoid. U.S. citizens have been threatened and detained in the region, according to the release. It also advised Americans to “defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula.”

The U.S. announcement comes as the conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate with each passing day. Up to 1,ooo Russian troops appeared to enter Ukraine on Friday, and the Ukrainian government responded by instituting a mandatory conscription.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Brings Back Conscription as Russia Appears to Launch All-Out Invasion

Servicemen sit atop an armoured vehicle as they travel through the steppe near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region
Servicemen sit atop an armored vehicle as they travel near the village of Krasnodarovka in Rostov region, Russia, on Aug. 28, 2014 Reuters

Moscow slammed at emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s national security council has ordered the reinstatement of mandatory conscription in response to what seems to be a full-scale Russian invasion of the country. The draft, affecting able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 25, is the latest indication that the Ukrainian conflict is rapidly intensifying.

Previous attempts at mandatory conscription have led to protests. But during a meeting with the council Thursday, Poroshenko urged his countrymen to “keep a cold mind” as Ukrainians geared up for a broader conflict.

NATO has provided satellite images that appear to show Russian armored vehicles fighting in Ukrainian territory, CNN reports. British intelligence says it has similar evidence, while U.S. officials say there are now up to 1,000 Russian troops in Ukraine.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to taunt Kiev by calling on separatist forces to open a humanitarian corridor in southeast Ukraine so that demoralized Ukrainian troops could flee home to their “mothers, wives and children.” He also claimed that “a large number” of Ukrainian troops were not “in the military operation of their own volition” but were simply “following orders.”

Vox reported that in his statement Putin referred to Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region by the politically loaded term Novorossiya, literally “New Russia.” Novorossiya is the old czarist name for the parts of Russia and Ukraine around the Black Sea and is a designation favored by separatists wishing to confer a historical integrity on the areas for which they are fighting.

“A counterfactual equivalent might be if a disturbingly post-Gestapo government in Germany began referring to the Netherlands as Western Germany or to western parts of the Czech Republic as Sudetenland,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at the Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME.

Responding to the incursions, Western envoys lambasted Russia on Thursday at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council in New York City. The U.S. representative, Samantha Power, said “Russia has come before this council to say everything except the truth. It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied. So we have learned to measure Russia by its actions and not by its words.”

The British envoy Mark Lyall Grant described Moscow’s incursions as a “brazen” violation of the U.N. Charter and international law.

Moscow’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin admitted there were Russians fighting in the Ukraine but claimed they were volunteers. He then went on to raise questions about the presence of U.S. military advisers in the country.

“A message must be sent to Washington — stop interfering in the internal activities of sovereign states and restrain your geopolitical ambition,” Churkin said, according to a U.N. statement.

Earlier on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm about the escalating conflict and urged Moscow and Kiev to follow up on talks held in Minsk earlier this week to forge “a peaceful way out of the conflict.”

Reports have meanwhile surfaced that separatist forces have succeeded in opening a third front after seizing the port city of Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov in the wake of days of shelling. Analysts continue to speculate whether the move is designed to draw troops away from heavy fighting near the separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, or is part of a strategic maneuver to forge a corridor to the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula farther west.

TIME Ukraine

Washington and Kiev Say Moscow Is Sending Heavily Armed Troops Into Ukraine

A group of Russian servicemen, who are detained by Ukrainian authorities, attend a news conference in Kiev
A group of Russian servicemen, taken prisoner by Ukrainian authorities, are presented at a news conference in Kiev on Aug. 27, 2014. Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a "special mission," but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake Valentyn Ogirenko—Reuters

Putin shrugs and says the war is none of his business but a "domestic matter" for Kiev

Ukrainian and U.S. officials accused Moscow of sending heavily armed columns across the border into Ukraine on Wednesday — a move that Washington says is likely part of a “Russian-directed counteroffensive” against Kiev.

During a press conference in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said reports indicated that “additional columns of Russian tanks, multiple rocket launchers, and armored vehicles” entered southeastern Ukraine this week, sharply escalating the five-month-old conflict.

“These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely under way in Donetsk and Luhansk. Clearly, that is of deep concern to us,” Psaki told reporters.

In Kiev, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told the New York Times that an armored Russian column entered the town of Amvrosiyivka on Wednesday in what was likely an attempt to expand the current multipronged counteroffensive against Ukrainian troops.

Separatist forces have long claimed that they use weaponry captured from Ukrainian arsenals. However, American officials argue that the hardware in rebel hands includes highly sophisticated air-defense systems — equipment that the Ukrainian armed forces are not believed to posses, according to the Times.

Ukraine went on to accuse the Kremlin of directing troops toward the coastal city of Mariupol, in what appears to be a bid to draw Ukrainian forces away from the heavy fighting near the rebel strongholds in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The escalation of the conflict comes only hours after an inconclusive round of talks wrapped up between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday night.

Following the meeting, Putin described the increasingly violent war in Ukraine as a purely domestic affair.

“Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a ceasefire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk,” Putin told reporters, according to a transcript published by his office. “This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine.”

Putin’s remarks came less than 24 hours after Ukrainian authorities said they captured at least nine Russian paratroopers inside the country earlier this week.

Russian officials later went on to explain that the presence of members of an elite Russian airborne division in Ukraine was likely the result of an accidental incursion that occurred during a patrol.

Putin brushed off the incident — explaining that such incursions aren’t really that big a deal.

“After all, Ukrainian service members entered our territory with armored equipment,” said Putin. “And we didn’t have any problems.”

The U.N. estimates that more than 2,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russia uprising kicked off in April. The fighting has also displaced close to 400,000.

TIME Ukraine

Rice Slams Moscow’s Intervention in Ukraine as ‘Dangerous and Inflammatory’

Susan Rice
National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens to reporters questions during a briefing on March 21, 2014 Manuel Balce Ceneta —AP

The National Security Adviser's condemnation comes ahead of a meeting between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has berated Russia for continuing to pump heavy weaponry and military personnel into Ukraine’s eastern provinces, where a pro-Moscow insurgency has been taking place since April.

“Repeated Russian incursions into Ukraine unacceptable. Dangerous and inflammatory,” said Rice on her Twitter account. “Russia has no right to send vehicles or cargo into Ukraine without Govt of Ukraine’s permission,” she said in a separate tweet.

She added that the Kremlin’s incursions into Ukraine represented a “significant escalation” of the crisis.

Rice’s strong words came hours ahead of a scheduled round of talks between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday. They also followed confirmation from NATO commanders last week that artillery units, manned by Russian troops, were operating both outside and within Ukraine and were bombarding Ukrainian forces.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been in a precipitous downward spiral since the ousting of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych by mass demonstrations earlier this year. That was followed in March by the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula — a move that inspired a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine the following month.

Under the leadership of Poroshenko, Ukraine has incrementally beaten back the insurgency, despite the aid that the rebels are receiving.

“What we’ve seen in recent weeks is a steady advance by the Ukrainian forces and Russia trying to pull various expedients out of the hat to help their proxies over the border,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME. “So far, at least, it doesn’t appear that any of these are working.”

On Monday, Kiev claimed to have captured a number of Russian paratroopers inside its borders.

The news came as President Poroshenko dissolved the country’s parliament and called for a new round of elections in October.

“Many deputies who are in the [Parliament] are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists,” said Poroshenko, according to the Associated Press.

Approximately 2,249 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured in Ukraine since hostilities erupted, according to an assessment by the U.N.

Despite the heavy losses, which include more than 700 Ukrainian servicemen, Poroshenko appears to be committed to eradicating the insurgents.

“We will manage to defend the independence, life and security of everyone, our right to live freely on our Ukrainian land at the cost of colossal efforts of the entire nation,” the President told the country during a national address on Aug. 24, the country’s Independence Day.

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