Moscow has directed its military to move artillery units manned by Russian personnel into Ukrainian territory while the world has been distracted by the murder of James Foley, the US photojournalist in Syria. It is believed that this weaponry has already been used to fire at Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said on Friday.
The incursion amounts to a significant escalation of the Kremlin’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine, which preceded the illegal entry of a convoy of Russian lorries, ostensibly carrying humanitarian aid, crossing the border into Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission, thus violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The EU and the US have been accusing Putin of supporting the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine since the rebellion started in March of this year, but the NATO countries have not had hard evidence that Russian soldiers were fighting in Ukrainian territory.
However, since mid-August NATO has received several reports detailing the direct involvement of Russian forces, said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson.“including Russian airborne, air defense and special operations forces in Eastern Ukraine, Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” she added.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general, criticized the Russian incursion in a statement issued in Brussels on Friday. His statement said
“I condemn the entry of a Russian so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities and without any involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross,”
“These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces,” the statement continued, adding: “We have also seen transfers of large quantities of advanced weapons, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery to separatist groups in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, NATO is observing an alarming buildup of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.”
The US announced its deep concern after the convoy entered Ukraine in violation of its sovereignty and urged Moscow to withdraw all its personnel and military hardware immediately. The Pentagon issued the following statement on Friday:
“This is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia must remove its vehicles and its personnel from the territory of Ukraine immediately. Failure to do so will result in additional costs and isolation.”