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News Wrap: Fighting in Ukraine intensifies as Putin and Poroshenko meet one-on-one

August 26, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: The leaders of Russia and Ukraine came face to face today. They agreed to have their border guards consult, but, otherwise, there was little sign of progress. The meeting unfolded as Kiev claimed new proof that Russian troops are inside Ukraine.

It was the first encounter between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko since June. They joined other European leaders at a summit in Belarus.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine (through interpreter): Today in Minsk, without any doubt, the fate of Europe and the fate of the world is being decided. We should together find the only correct solution upon which nothing less than peace on the continent depends.

GWEN IFILL: Poroshenko called for imposing stronger controls on the border with Russia and for cutting off arms supplies to pro-Russian rebels.

On the Russian side, President Putin said the crisis cannot be resolved without — quote — “peaceful dialogue.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): I would like to stress that we are ready to discuss any variants of our cooperation, based on consideration for each other’s interests. We are ready to exchange opinions on the current acute crisis in Ukraine, which I’m sure cannot be solved by further escalation of military actions.

GWEN IFILL: The one-on-one meeting between Putin and Poroshenko finally took place late at night. It was hosted by the president of Belarus.

PRESIDENT ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, Belarus (through interpreter): Talks were not easy, but the dialogue was substantive and extremely frank. It is already valuable and important that this dialogue took place.

GWEN IFILL: But military action only intensified in southeastern Ukraine. It was the second day of fighting around Novoazovsk, which lies close to the major port of Mariupol, and on the same road that leads to the Russian-annexed Crimea Peninsula.

Ukraine also charged that a Russian helicopter attacked a border post yesterday, killing four guards. And Kiev released sound and video of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers. Several complained about their government’s actions.

ALEXEI GENERALOV, Captured Russian Soldier (through interpreter): Stop sending the men here. Stop it. It shouldn’t be happening. Why is this being done? It’s not our war. It’s not our war, and if we weren’t here, then none of this would be happening. They would have sorted out their state and their own problems by themselves.

GWEN IFILL: Moscow said the soldiers accidentally strayed across the border. The Russians have repeatedly denied they are aiding the rebels in Ukraine.

The Obama administration wouldn’t confirm reports today that U.S. planes are conducting surveillance flights over Syria. They could set the stage for airstrikes on Islamic State militants there. The Pentagon’s main spokesman, Rear Admiral John Kirby, declined to say directly if the flights are under way. He did acknowledge there’s a lot to learn about the group.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, Pentagon Press Secretary: We recognize that their development, their growth, the increase in their capabilities, it hasn’t happened overnight, and it has happened regionally, that they operate pretty much freely between Iraq and Syria.

Do we have perfect information about them and their capabilities, whether it’s on the Syrian side or the Iraqi side? No, we don’t.

GWEN IFILL: President Obama made no mention of surveillance flights in his speech today, but he cautioned that rooting out the Islamic State group will not be easy. He also vowed the killers of journalist James Foley will be brought to justice. He said, America doesn’t forget.

There’s also word the Persian Gulf state of Qatar is working to secure the release of four more American hostages in Syria. The Reuters news service reported that development today, citing an unnamed source in the Gulf. Qatar helped free American journalist Peter Theo Curtis on Sunday. He’d been a hostage in Syria for two years.

In Afghanistan, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah threatened to pull out of a U.N.-supervised audit of the disputed runoff election. His camp said none of the fraudulent votes are being thrown out. Abdullah led in the initial voting, but former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani finished first in the runoff.

The scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs brought a new presidential pledge today. The agency has faced disclosures of lengthy wait times for health care and of falsified records. President Obama defended his response to the scandal.

But, at the American Legion Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, today, he said there’s much more to do.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there, and those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens.

GWEN IFILL: The president also announced steps to improve access to mental health care for active-duty troops and veterans. Separately, VA officials said an investigation found no proof that delays in care at its Phoenix hospital caused any deaths.

The World Health Organization is now officially targeting electronic cigarettes. The U.N. agency today proposed an array of regulations, including banning the indoor use of e-cigarettes and restricting advertising and sales to minors. Use of the devices has soared in recent years and created an industry worth $3 billion.

On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 30 points to close at 17,106. The Nasdaq rose 13 points to close at 4,570. And the S&P 500 added two points to finish above 2,000 for the first time.