Ukrainian authorities accused Russia on Thursday of sending tanks into the country in support of the separatist uprising there, heightening tensions between the two states a day after Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, said he was ready to negotiate.
Interior minister Arsen Avakov said three Russian tanks and other military vehicles had crossed the border into Ukraine on Thursday at a checkpoint controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the Luhansk region, leading to a skirmish between Russian and Ukrainian forces. He claimed part of the Russian column had been destroyed.
The Interior Ministry later claimed the tanks had originally been Ukrainian and were seized by Russia during its invasion of the Crimea in March. A spokesman accused Russia of “trying to manipulate world opinion” by arguing that the tanks weren’t Russian.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the BBC that the claim was “another fake piece of information.” The country has repeatedly denied providing military support to the rebels who have taken control of cities and towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are home to sizable ethnic Russian minorities. Having declared people’s republics independent of the government in Kiev, the separatists asked Russia to annex the area as it did the Crimea.
Poroshenko, a confectionery tycoon who was sworn in as president on Saturday after winning an election late last month, told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, by phone that the situation was “unacceptable,” his spokesman said.
The Kremlin said nothing about Putin’s response.
Correspondents for the news agency Reuters saw two tanks in the border town of Snizhnye in east Ukraine on Thursday but it was not clear where they had come from or whether they had previously been used by the Russian or Ukrainian army.
The tanks appeared to be of the T-64 type which first entered service in 1964. Russia no longer uses this tank but Ukraine still has several hundreds of them. Another photograph, however, showed a damaged T-72 which remains in use by all former Soviet states.