(Reuters) – Ukraine accused Russia on Monday of sending soldiers across the border to open a new front in the separatist war that has devastated the east of the country and provoked the gravest East-West crisis since the fall of Communism.
The charge, dismissed by Moscow, dealt a blow to already slim hopes of progress at talks on Tuesday towards ending the conflict between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops, in which more than 2,000 people have been killed.
The Ukrainian military said a group of Russian forces, in the guise of separatist rebels, had crossed into south-east Ukraine with 10 tanks and two armored infantry vehicles. It said border guards had halted the column outside Novoazovsk, Ukraine’s most south-easterly point on the Azov Sea.
“This morning there was an attempt by the Russian military in the guise of Donbass fighters to open a new area of military confrontation in the southern Donetsk region,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.
Donbass is the name given to the industrialized and mainly Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, where two regions — Donetsk and Luhansk — have declared independence from Ukraine in an attempt to join Russia.
With the rebels largely encircled in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine has been pressing its advance while its Western allies have waited nervously to see if Moscow will intervene to prevent the separatists being crushed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked about the alleged incident, said “I have not heard of this, but there is plenty of disinformation out there about our ‘incursions’.”
NATO said last week that Russian forces had been firing artillery both within Ukraine and across the border, but Moscow has consistently denied taking part in the fighting or supplying weapons to the separatists.
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