Russian President Vladimir Putin, foreground center, applauds as he attends the Judo World Cup in the city of Chelyabinsk in Siberia, Russia, on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)
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Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other's territory near the battlefield, where Kiev says Moscow's forces have come to the aid of pro-Russian insurgents, tipping the military balance in the rebels' favour.However, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebel independence.Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels.The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the path of a new rebel advance, drawing concern from Ukraine's Western allies, who say armoured columns of Russian troops came to the aid of a rebellion that would otherwise have been near collapse.A Russian commander said an unspecified number of Russian paratroops were swapped for 63 Ukrainian soldiers. Kiev said the Russian soldiers numbered nine.Kiev has in the past said some of its soldiers crossed into Russia to escape from fighting on the Ukrainian side of the frontier, behaviour that contrasts to that of the Russians it says crossed the border to wage war in Ukraine.However, the measures have done little to deter Putin, who gave a typically defiant public appearance on Friday in which he described Russians and Ukrainians as "practically one people" and compared Kiev's attempts to recapture rebellious cities with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
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