NATO and the Ukrainian government on Friday said that several Russian military vehicles were destroyed overnight when they crossed the border into Ukraine.
A statement on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's website said that Russian APCs were seen entering the country from a point near the aid convoy, but were destroyed by artillery fire from Ukrainian troops, according to the Associated Press. "The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night," the statement said.
Poroshenko did not provide any proof to corroborate his claim. However, NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance had seen a "Russian incursion" into Ukraine, the AP reports.
Rasmussen also told reporters that the APCs were a sign that Russia was continuing to supply separatists in Ukraine with "a continuous flow of weapons and fighters."
The vehicles were apparently unrelated to the Russian convoy said to be carrying humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, which is currently stopped at a border point, where CNN reports it is being inspected by officials. The European Union has expressed concern that the convoy could be pretext for an invasion, but the Russian government denied the claim, stating it was only interested in "the tremendously grave humanitarian situation" in the region.
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It is unclear what the mission for the secret convoy was. Ukraine did not consider the tanks' border crossing a sign of invasion, Bloomberg reports. However, Defense Ministry spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said that the vehicles had been painted white to "camouflage" the operation as a peacekeeping mission. Bloomberg writes:
The incursion last night isn’t seen by Ukraine as a new development or a possible start of an invasion by Russia, Defense Ministry spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said by phone. The vehicles were painted white to camouflage the operation as a peacekeeping mission, he said. The military column, which wasn’t part of Russia’s convoy delivering humanitarian aid, rolled into insurgent-held territory, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the military, told reporters in Kiev today.
According to NPR, "European diplomatic officials and some journalists in the area first reported that some Russian military vehicles did cross into Ukraine overnight and that two British newspapers said 'at least 23 Russian military vehicles' were involved."
German Foreign Minister Franke-Walter Steinmeier said Friday in Brussels that there may be no connection between the humanitarian convoy and the military column. "What we still don't know is whether this was a relatively, unfortunately, normal nightly course of events at the Russian-Ukrainian border, or if it had some sort of connection with the humanitarian convoy," Steinmeier said. "The OSCE view initially leaned to there being no close connection."
Almost 2,100 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since fighting began in April.