According to AFP, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday (August 31) raised the stakes in the Ukraine conflict by calling for the first time for statehood to be discussed for the restive east of the former Soviet state.
Moscow has previously only called for "federalization" that would grant greater rights to the eastern regions of Ukraine, where predominantly Russian-speakers live.
Yet, Putin had sparked speculation that he may be seeking to create a pro-Russian centerpiece when he began to employ the loaded Tsarist-era term "Novorossiya," or New Russia, to refer to several regions in southeast Ukraine.
His spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that the Russian leader was not talking about "Novorossiya's" independence from Ukraine, but rather "inclusive talks."
Kiev has warned that it was on the brink of "full-scale war" with Moscow over the crisis in its east, which Europe fears would put the whole continent at risk of conflict. The EU agreed to take "further significant steps" if Moscow did not rein in its support for the rebels, with new sanctions to be drawn up within a week.
COMMENT: One fact is acknowledged where Vladimir Putin is concerned: Given his KGB socialization, his capacity for "lying, stealing and cheating" is virtually unlimited.
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose Baltic nation is wary of the resurgent power on its eastern border, warned that "Russia is practically in a state of war against Europe" and called for EU military assistance to Kiev.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged Brussels to take tougher steps against Russia's "military aggression and terror" and warned that a "full-scale war" with Moscow is closer than ever.
"Today we are talking about the fate of Ukraine, tomorrow it could be for all Europe," he said.
Poroshenko said he expected the West to ramp up its arms supplies to Ukraine after discussions at a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday and Friday (September 4-5), where he is expected to meet with US President Barack Obama.
Russia admitted that Russian paratroopers had been captured in Ukraine, yet he attributes their presence to "getting lost."
On Sunday, Russian and Ukrainian officials confirmed that a prisoner swap had taken place on the northeastern border with Ukraine.
Rebels have pushed a lightning offensive around Ukraine's Azov Sea in the past week, prompting speculation of a possible attempt by Moscow to establish a corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula it annexed in March 2014.
Ukraine's border guard service said its two ships were fired upon off the Azov Sea coast close to the city of Mariupol, though confirmation could not be verified.
Mariupol "is the last big town in the region under Ukrainian control, home to half a million people," commander of Ukraine's Azov battalion, Andriy Biletskiy told AFP.
Inside the strategic port, volunteer battalions were bracing for a desperate defense of the city, manning barricades of barbed wire and trenches.