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"They want to live in Russia," said Girkin, also known by his nom de guerre, Igor Strelkov. "But when they tried to assert this right, Russia doesn’t want to help." He said he believed the troops had only "two or three weeks" before they were defeated if Russia did not step in.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was bolstering efforts to deliver medical aid to those in eastern Ukraine, but made no mention of the rebels’ defeat in Slovyansk or plans to provide military aid.
Rebel leaders have pleaded with the Kremlin for military assistance in the past, and some prominent Russian nationalists have publicly taunted Putin, accusing him of cowardice. Such criticism could resonate with the broader Russian public, which has been heavily influenced by Russian state television’s characterization of the Kiev government as a "fascist junta" that is killing Russian-speakers.
Poroshenko said Friday he was ready to conduct another round of talks between representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels. But with the rebels reeling from their attack Saturday, it was unclear whether negotiations could take place.
"That possibility still exists," said Purgin. "We don’t exclude that the talks could happen in Minsk, because the situation in Donetsk has escalated. Different options are now under discussion."
Balint Szlanko in Donetsk, Ukraine and Laura Mills in Moscow contributed reporting.
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