The crisis in Ukraine escalated as the government said its army destroyed part of a column of military vehicles that crossed the border from Russia, even as Vladimir Putin denies any military presence in the country.
President Petro Poroshenko said Ukrainian forces destroyed part of the column that arrived overnight from Russia. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow meanwhile warned about a potential attack on another convoy carrying humanitarian aid. Ukraine’s top diplomat, Pavlo Klimkin, said he will meet with his Russian, German and French counterparts Aug. 17.
The incident adds to the tension building over plans by Russia, which has about 275 trucks near its western border loaded with what it says is humanitarian aid for rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. Even with Ukraine saying it doesn’t see the incursion by the armed vehicles as the start of a potential invasion, their arrival has raised the stakes, according to Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta political research institute in Kiev.
“It was a gut check to see if Ukraine will defend itself,” Fesenko said. If Russia “reacts in any way, that would mean that they confirm this convoy was a Russian one, and thus that Russia made a military intervention into Ukrainian territory. But I do not think it will.”
Ukraine’s statements on the armed convoy amount to “provocation” and are part of an “information war,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said by phone. The government in Kiev is seeking to aggravate the conflict and drag Russia into it, she said.
U.S. and European stocks fell, erasing an earlier rally, while Treasuries extended an advance asUkraine said its troops attacked the armed column. Gold trimmed losses.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell 0.3 percent at 11:27 a.m., reversing an earlier advance of 0.5 percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index lost 0.2 percent, after rallying 0.8 percent. The yield on 10-year Treasuries slid 8 basis points to 2.33 percent. Gold futures declined 0.8 percent, paring an earlier drop of 1.7 percent. The yen erased losses against the dollar.
The government in Kiev has for months said that separatist rebels in its easternmost regions are receiving support from Russia, which backs them with artillery fire. Ukrainian troops were shelled from across the border again, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the military, told reporters in Kiev today.
The conflict is coming to a head as Ukrainian government forces push to dislodge pro-Russian insurgents from their strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen today that Russia made an “incursion” into Ukraine last night and that military alliance sees a continuous flow of Russian weapons into the country.
Russia has only deployed forces to patrol its side of the frontier and its troops didn’t cross into Ukraine, the state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported, citing the FSB security service’s border guard division.
European Union governments warned Russia against using humanitarian missions as cover to bring troops into Ukraine, expressing frustration at the Kremlin’s refusal to heed calls to de-escalate the conflict.
Putin, under increasing international pressure for allegedly supporting separatists in Ukraine, pledged during a visit to Crimea yesterday that he would work to halt the conflict. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow reiterated its call for a cease-fire to allow delivery of humanitarian aid.
About 275 trucks were parked in a field nearby, close to the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.Ukraine, which has warned that it would treat an attempt by the convoy to cross the border in violation of international law as aggression, sent dozens of officials to join Red Cross representatives in inspecting the cargo on the Russian side of the border.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it’s deploying additional staff to Russian and Ukrainein preparation for aid delivery. Both sides have asked the organization for assistance.
“We still need assurances from all parties to conflict staff will be allowed to perform tasks safely, with due respect for humanitarian principles,” Laurent Corbaz, the Red Cross’s head of operations for Europe, said in an e-mailed statement. “Given complex logistics, security challenges involved, this aid operation will take some time, we call on authorities of both countries to do all they can to resolve outstanding issues quickly.”
An aid shipment sent by the Ukrainian government was handed to the Red Cross, said Iryna Herashchenko, Poroshenko’s envoy to eastern Ukraine.