Ukraine Says It Has Been Battling Russian Tanks In Lugansk

Reports of fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces come ahead of a key meeting about the crisis in east Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government said its troops have been battling a contingent of Russian tanks outside the eastern city of Lugansk this morning, Agence France-Presse reported.

Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters

Speaking on his Facebook page, Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said, "The battle between Ukrainian paratroopers and a reinforced tank battalion of the Russian armed forces is continuing with the goal of controlling the Lugansk airfield," AFP reported.

The BBC is reporting that Ukrainian forces have now withdrawn from the airport, following overnight clashes with pro-Russian rebels.

Kiev has accused Moscow of moving large army units into cities in the conflict-hit region.

In recent days, pro-Russian rebels have made big advances in eastern Ukraine, and Kiev claims the seizure of territory has been reinforced by the largest influx of Russian weaponry and troops yet. NATO has accused Russia of sending 1,000 troops across the Ukrainian border, much of which is no longer under Kiev's control.

#BREAKING Kiev says Ukrainian troops are battling a Russian tank division in the eastern city of Lugansk

Agence France-Presse@AFP

#BREAKING Kiev says Ukrainian troops are battling a Russian tank division in the eastern city of Lugansk

7:50 AM - 01 Sep 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

The information that Russian troops are there has been confirmed. We are fighting Russia and it is Russia which is deciding what will happen in Donbass. We are holding talks not with terrorists but with representatives of the Kremlin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted there would be "no military intervention" from Russia in Ukraine, the BBC reported.

Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

Speaking to students in Moscow ahead of key talks on the conflict in Minsk, Belarus, Lavrov (above) said he would be focusing on agreeing an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire." He added that the Ukrainian military must pull back from positions from which it can hit civilian targets, Al Jazeera reported.

"We are for an exclusively peaceful resolution of that most serious crisis, that tragedy," he said.

The talks will feature representatives from the "contact group" on Ukraine, which includes Russia, Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists, and members of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe.

Talks in Minsk between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, last week ended without any breakthrough being made.

In an interview with Russian state television last night, Putin appeared to call on Kiev to enter discussions on "statehood" for Ukraine's southeastern regions, The Guardian reported.

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service

Putin, pictured above at the Judo World Championships in Siberia on Sunday, said that talks between the Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists should begin immediately and focus not just on technical issues "but on the political organization of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine."

A spokesperson later said that the Russian president did not mean that the region should become independent, but that a dialogue should begin.