Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of sending soldiers across the border to open a new front in the separatist war that has devastated the east of the country and provoked the gravest East-West crisis since the fall of Communism.
The charge, dismissed by Moscow, dealt a blow to already slim hopes of progress at talks on Tuesday towards ending the conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops, in which more than 2,000 people have been killed.
The Ukrainian military said a group of Russian forces, in the guise of separatist rebels, had crossed into south-east Ukraine with 10 tanks and two armoured infantry vehicles. It said border guards had halted the column outside Novoazovsk, Ukraine’s most south-easterly point on the Azov Sea.
“This morning there was an attempt by the Russian military in the guise of Donbass fighters to open a new area of military confrontation in the southern Donetsk region,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.
Donbass is the name given to the industrialised and mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, where two regions -- Donetsk and Luhansk -- have declared independence from Ukraine in an attempt to join Russia.
With the rebels largely encircled in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine has been pressing its advance while its Western allies have waited nervously to see if Moscow will intervene to prevent the separatists being crushed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked about the alleged incident, said “I have not heard of this, but there is plenty of disinformation out there about our ‘incursions’.”
NATO said last week that Russian forces had been firing artillery both within Ukraine and across the border, but Moscow has consistently denied taking part in the fighting or supplying weapons to the separatists.
Germany condemned the public parading of Ukrainian government prisoners of war in separatist-held Donetsk on Sunday as quite likely a war crime, a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Berlin said on Monday.
“It’s quite probable,” Martin Schaefer told a government news conference when asked if that had been a war crime. “It is completely distasteful and it’s just not done.”
In Donetsk on Sunday about 100 people introduced over a public address system as Ukrainian prisoners-of-war were marched through the city’s central Lenin Square.
Second Russian aid convoy
Russia wants to send a second humanitarian aid convoy to eastern Ukraine in the near future, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday after Kiev and the West criticized Moscow for sending the first cargo without official permission.
“The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating,” Lavrov told a news conference. “We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route... in the coming days.”
Lavrov also said damage to civilian infrastructure in east Ukraine, where Kiev is fighting a pro-Russian rebellion, cannot all be put down to errors or chance.
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