Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine said on Friday it had destroyed part of a Russian military convoy that crossed onto its territory in an incursion that has sent cross-border tensions rocketing.
NATO accused Russia of active involvement in the “destabilisation” of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin separatists have been fighting against Kiev for four months.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron that government artillery had destroyed a “considerable part” of a small military convoy that entered the country, the presidency said in a statement.
The European Union demanded that Russia “put an immediate stop to any form of border hostilities, in particular to the flow of arms, military advisers and armed personnel into the conflict region, and to withdraw its forces from the border.”
French President Francois Hollande called on Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and for both sides to try to de-escalate the “very high tensions,” while Britain summoned Moscow’s ambassador to “clarify” the situation and a spokesman for Cameron said Russia needs to show “a willingness to find a peaceful solution to the conflict”.
Moscow’s defence ministry dismissed the alleged convoy as a “phantom”, its latest denial of Western accusations that it is funnelling weapons to the pro-Russia separatists who launched an insurgency against Kiev in April.
“Such statements, based on fantasies… should not be a subject of serious discussion for leaders of any country,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies.
But NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed reports of the “Russian incursion” after British media said it had seen the convoy of some 20 vehicles cross the border.
“It just confirms the fact that we see a continued flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into the eastern Ukraine,” he said.
“It is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.”
As the fallout snowballed, Ukraine’s foreign minister announced he will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Berlin on Sunday for talks alongside the top diplomats from France and Germany.
“Be it a square table or a round one, we need to talk,” minister Pavlo Klimkin wrote on Twitter.
– Kiev pushes on offensive –
Meanwhile Ukraine said it was forging on with an offensive that has sent rebel forces reeling, retaking three small towns overnight.
Top rebel military chief Igor Strelkov and another key commander announced Thursday they were quitting after Ukraine’s military said it had completely surrounded Lugansk, cutting all links to the border with Russia.
The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, described the situation in rebel-held areas as “critical” and demanded that Russian aid be let in.
Full article: Tensions soar as Ukraine says destroys Russian armour (Yahoo!)