Ukraine claims to have destroyed part of Russian armed convoy after attack
Ukraine said its artillery destroyed part of a Russian armoured column that entered its territory overnight and said its forces came under shellfire from Russia yesterday, in what appeared to be a major military escalation between the ex-Soviet states.
Russia's government denied its forces had crossed into Ukraine. It called the Ukrainian report "some kind of fantasy" and accused Kiev of trying to sabotage aid deliveries to eastern areas torn by fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Western-backed government of Moscow's former satellite state.
Nato said there had been a Russian incursion into Ukraine, which is not a member of the Western mutual defence pact, but it avoiding calling it an invasion. Other European capitals accused the Kremlin of escalating a conflict that has revived Cold War-era animosities and chilled the region's struggling economies.
The United Nations said it could not verify the reports from the Ukrainian border, but called for an immediate de-escalation.
Kiev and its Western allies have repeatedly accused Russia of arming pro-Moscow separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, and of sending undercover military units onto Ukrainian soil. They have also expressed concern Russia may use an aid convoy it has assembled on the border as a pretext for stoking the conflict.
It was not clear whether the armoured column was officially part of the Russian army on active service.
But evidence of Russian military vehicles captured or destroyed on Ukrainian territory would give extra force to Kiev's allegations - and possibly spark a new round of sanctions against the Kremlin.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, told a news briefing that Kiev's forces had picked up a Russian military column crossing the border under cover of darkness.
"Appropriate actions were undertaken and a part of it no longer exists," Lysenko said.
The situation in the conflict zone was becoming increasingly tense, he said, with Ukrainian forces which are fighting pro-Russian separatists also coming under artillery attack from Russian territory.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko briefed British Prime Minister David Cameron on the incident and told him a "significant" part of the Russian column had been destroyed, according to statement from Poroshenko's office.
But Russia's Defence Ministry said no such military force had crossed the border into eastern Ukraine. State news agency RIA quoted a ministry statement saying: "There was no Russian military column that crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border either at night or during the day."
It called the Ukrainian report "some kind of fantasy".
Britain summoned Russia's ambassador to ask him to clarify reports of a military incursion into Ukraine, and European Union foreign ministers said any unilateral military actions by Russia in Ukraine would be a blatant violation of international law.
Meanwhile, Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to disrupt its humanitarian aid mission to eastern Ukraine and called for a ceasefire in the region to allow for the deliveries.
"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," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russia's foreign minister also said that talks were continuing with his Ukrainian counterpart over the aid mission
Before news of the incursion Ukraine said its customs and border service officials were inspecting the Russian aid convoy parked just beyond its border, a sign that the two countries might be taking steps to ease tensions over the shipment.
Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine's border guard service, said the cargo would be inspected in the presence of representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing on Friday morning, defence officials in Kiev said in a statement.
Russian news agencies said Russia was prepared to present all necessary documentation and to hand over the cargo to the Red Cross.
The roughly 200 Russian white-tarped trucks have been parked since Thursday.