A Russian military vehicle maneuvers on a road behind an aid convoy of trucks 9 miles from the Ukraine border.
DONETSK, Ukraine—The Ukraine government said its forces destroyed a “significant” part of a Russian armored convoy that crossed into eastern Ukraine Thursday evening.
President Petro Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron in a phone conversation on Friday that artillery had “eliminated” the vehicles, according to a statement on the presidential website.
A senior security source with knowledge of the operation confirmed to Mashable that a “majority” of the armored vehicles traveling in the column had been destroyed in a “special operation,” although the Ukrainians offered no photographic proof of the convoy being hit.
“Yes, it is true they were shelled,” the source told Mash.
But Ukraine’s message contrasted starkly with that of Russia’s Defense Ministry, which called the Ukrainian report “some kind of fantasy.”
“There was no Russian military column that crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border either at night or during the day,” state news agency RIA Novosti quoted the ministry as saying.
Ukraine has long claimed that Russian military vehicles are crossing the border to support Russian-backed rebels in their fight against government troops. It has also said regular Russian forces are shelling its soldiers’ positions from across the border.
For its part, Moscow has repeatedly denied sending weapons and troops across the border and firing rockets into Ukrainian territory.
Two British journalists reportedly witnessed the column of 23 Russian military vehicles, including armored personal carriers and fuel trucks marked with military plates, passing into the eastern region of Luhansk from the city of Donetsk in Russia’s Rostov region late Thursday local time.
They said the convoy made no attempts to sneak past them, leaving their lights on as they rumbled toward the Ukrainian frontier.
Further confirmation of the vehicle’s passing came Friday afternoon, when NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said intelligence showed a “Russian incursion” into Ukraine had occurred overnight. He stopped short of calling to move an invasion.
“Last night we saw a Russian incursion, a crossing of the Ukrainian border,” he reportedly told journalists after meeting the Danish defense minister. “It just confirms the fact that we see a continuous flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into eastern Ukraine and it is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.”
Once across the border, “appropriate actions were undertaken and a part of [the Russian convoy] no longer exists,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Friday.
Lysenko told journalists in Kiev that the movements of the remaining vehicles in the convoy are being watched closely and suggested it will travel to Luhansk to reinforce Russian-backed rebels there who are fighting pitched battles with government forces.
“We can’t control that part [of the border through which the military column traveled] yet, but we have the ability to receive information about what is going on there and where this column is heading,” he said.
Later, the press service for Ukraine’s military operation in the east reported that a convoy consisting of armored personal carriers and Ural military trucks was moving to Molodohvardiysk, Luhansk region. While the column is not numerous, the vehicles’ license plates are Russian and armed soldiers were in the trucks, according to the military.
To clarify reports of the reported military incursion, Britain called in the Russian ambassador in London Friday afternoon. At the same time, European Union officials warned Moscow that any unilateral military actions in Ukraine would violate international law.
The EU and The United States have slapped Russia with sanctions for its role in fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine.
The apparent move by Russia to send in military vehicles with the eyes of the world focused on a humanitarian convoy sent from Moscow to the embattled eastern Ukrainian regions is seen as being particularly provocative, especially since journalists had congregated in the area near to where the convoy passed to report on the Russian aid.
Russia accused Ukraine on Friday of trying to disrupt its humanitarian aid mission to eastern Ukraine and demanded a ceasefire to allow for it to be delivered.
“We draw attention to the sharp intensification of military action by Ukrainian forces with the apparent aim to stop the path, agreed on with Kiev, of a humanitarian convoy across the Russia-Ukraine border,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Ukraine has also sent its own convoys, one of which arrived and was unloaded in the city of Starobilsk, Luhansk region on Friday. Two others are expected to reach the east in the coming days.
While it garnered much attention, the incursion was no surprise to many. Olexiy Haran, a Kiev-based political analyst, called the crossing itself “nothing unusual.” He said the difference this time was merely that it was observed and photographed by Western journalists.
“We know that they are passing every day into Ukraine,” he told Mashable by phone from Kiev.
What happens now, he said, “depends on Putin, first of all.”
“The question now is… how he will respond, because Russia is losing this war [in eastern Ukraine],” he added.
Ukrainian forces in recent days have made serious gains and tightened the ring around the separatist-controlled areas in the east, especially around the stronghold cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. In doing so they have reclaimed about 75 percent of the area once controlled by the separatists.
Putin now has two options, Haran says.
“To punish Ukraine by starting a full-scale invasion, which will lead to huge bloodshed,” is the first option, he said. “Second, Putin could make steps toward de-escalation. But that doesn’t mean he will stop subversive tactics. Those will increase.”
Putin, Haran explained, “needs something to all him to say to Russians “I’m winning.’”
The humanitarian convoy is a key element to his plan, he says. “With it, Putin can say, ‘We escaped humanitarian catastrophe in [Donetsk and Luhansk], we played an important role, we protected Russians and the Russian language.’”
Without it, “he loses.”
Tags: RUSSIA, Ukraine, US & World, WORLD