KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, RUSSIA – NATO on Friday said a Russian military column ventured into Ukraine overnight on Thursday, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s said Ukraine forces destroyed most of it. Russia denied all of this, but the reports spooked global markets and overshadowed optimism driven by agreement over a Russian aid convoy bound for eastern Ukraine.
The White House said it is looking into what it called unconfirmed reports that Ukraine’s security forces disabled vehicles in a Russian military convoy inside Ukraine.
The Russian aid convoy of more than 250 trucks has been a source of tensions since it set off from Moscow on Tuesday. Kiev and the West were suspicious that the mission could be a pretext for a Russian military incursion into eastern Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russia separatists and clawing back rebel-held territory.
Throughout the crisis that erupted the eastern Ukraine in April, there have been consistent allegations that Russia is fomenting or directing the rebellion. Moscow rejects the allegations and the high-profile aid convoy could be aimed, in part, at portraying Russia as interested in cooling the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to cultivate that perception in a Thursday speech in which he said Russia hopes for peace in Ukraine.
It is not clear what Russia could hope to gain by sending in a military column while world attention is focused on its efforts to get the aid convoy into eastern Ukraine.
But some foreign journalists reported that Russian armored personnel carriers were seen crossing into Ukraine on Thursday night. On Friday, a statement on Poroshenko’s website said “the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the vehicles were destroyed by Ukrainian artillery at night.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also confirmed that Russian military vehicles had entered Ukraine, but gave no specifics.