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News Wrap: Separatists in Ukraine seize port town Novoazovsk

August 29, 2014 at 5:59 PM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Rebels in Ukraine consolidated a new conquest today. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin remained defiant amid charges and countercharges over Russia’s role in the rebel offensive.

The border crossing between Novoazovsk, Ukraine, and Russia was quiet today. It’s now under the control of pro-Russian separatists. In the past 72 hours, the port town has become a new front in the ongoing war for control of Eastern Ukraine. The rebels claim no Russians are helping them, despite Ukrainian claims that Russian troops have invaded.

MAN (through interpreter): It is the Ukrainian authorities fighting against their own people. They are killing their own civilians. There are no Russians here. There is no Russian equipment coming through here. We are fighting with the machinery they themselves abandon. They just dump them and flee.

HARI SREENIVASAN: NATO had said satellite images proved Russia has 1,000 soldiers and heavy weaponry inside Ukraine, but, today, Russia’s foreign minister rejected the allegations.

SERGEI LAVROV, Foreign Minister, Russia (through interpreter): It’s not the first time that we hear all sorts of conjecture, and not once have any facts been presented to us. There have been reports that there are photographs from space showing movements of Russian troops, but, as it turned out, it was computer games and the images were taken from there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That drew a sharp response from NATO’s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in Brussels.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, Secretary General, NATO: This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but many of the countries it borders are. Now the Ukrainian prime minister says his government wants to join them.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): The government of Ukraine will bring before parliament a law to scrap the nonaligned status of the Ukrainian state and establish a course towards membership of NATO.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in Russia, at a youth camp, President Vladimir Putin warned, “It’s best not to mess with us,” and he ratcheted up his rhetoric against Ukraine.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter):  Both small villages and large cities are surrounded by the Ukrainian army, which is directly hitting residential areas. You know, it sadly reminds me of the events of the Second World War when German Nazis, the German fascist army surrounded our cities like Leningrad.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the European Union met in Milan, Italy, amid calls for new sanctions against Russia. And the human toll kept growing. The United Nations reported nearly 2,600 people have been killed in Eastern Ukraine through August 27.

Leaders of the European Union nations meet tomorrow. They have invited the president of Ukraine to address the summit.

The White House today defended President Obama’s statement that there’s no strategy yet on how to deal with Islamic State forces in Syria. Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president wants an overall plan, including a military component. He said the president is waiting for the Pentagon to show him options.

JOSH EARNEST, White House Press Secretary: There are some who probably would make the case that it is OK to not have a formulated, comprehensive strategy, but, just as one pundit I know recently suggested, that we could just go drop some bombs and see what happens.

That is not what the president believes is a smart approach. The president believes it is important for us to pursue a comprehensive strategy, where military action is one component of that strategy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On another matter, the White House said it’s not aware of any specific threat to the United States by Islamic State militants, but Britain raised its threat level today to the second highest alert over concerns of possible attacks. Prime Minister David Cameron said it’s largely a response to the growing number of Britons and other Westerners joining radical Islamist groups in the Middle East.

California may become the first to have colleges define what it means to give sexual consent. The so-called Yes Means Yes bill won final approval Thursday evening, in a bid to battle sexual assaults. The measure says there must be affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement before sexual agreement. Silence or lack of resistance wouldn’t qualify as consent. The bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.

Wall Street closed out the month of August with modest additions today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 19 points to close at 17,098; the Nasdaq rose 22 points to close at 4,580; and the S&P 500 added six points to finish at 2,003. For the month, the Dow gained more than 3 percent, the S&P gained nearly 4 percent, and the Nasdaq rose almost 5 percent.