KIEV, Ukraine (AFP) – Dozens of tanks and truckloads of soldiers have crossed from Russia into Kremlin-backed rebel territory, Ukraine said Friday, though neither NATO nor the US were able to verify the claim.
The allegations that Moscow is stepping up reinforcements for the insurgents stoked fears that both sides could slide into a return to all-out fighting.
A column of 32 tanks, 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks carrying troops and equipment crossed the border into the separatist-held Lugansk region Thursday, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said, adding that another convoy including three mobile radar stations had also entered the same area.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russian battle tanks, armoured vehicles and cargo trucks had been seen Thursday about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the border, but added there was no “independent confirmation” of the reports.
“If confirmed, the United States condemns this most recent incursion into Ukrainian territory,” she said. “It would be another blatant violation of the Minsk agreement signed by Russia and the separatists.”
The Russian defence ministry said Friday that a string of Western accusations concerning troop movements around the Ukraine border were “untrue”.
Kiev said five soldiers were killed in the latest fighting between government forces and pro-Moscow rebels, underscoring the emptiness of a two-month truce that both sides continue to insist they are respecting.
In a rare chance for dialogue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet his US counterpart John Kerry Saturday ahead of the APEC summit in Beijing next week, Russian news agencies reported.
But in a sign of how far relations have slumped, the Kremlin ruled out an official sit-down between President Vladimir Putin and US leader Barack Obama.