Ukraine's president rallied support Thursday for his plan to end fighting in the country's east in phone calls with U.S., Russian and German leaders, even as he condemned what Ukrainian officials called an incursion of armored vehicles from Russia.
The Ukrainian interior minister said three tanks crossed into Ukraine along with other armored vehicles from Russia and were attacked by military forces fighting pro-Moscow separatists. Russia has denied sending troops or equipment into Ukraine, describing Russian citizens who have joined the armed separatists as volunteers. There was no independent confirmation that the tanks had come from Russia.
The reported incursion followed statements earlier Thursday by Russia's foreign minister that the separatists were ready for a cease-fire but that Kiev had to initiate the process.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who took office less than a week ago, told Russian President Vladimir Putin that it was "unacceptable" that tanks had crossed the border, according to his spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko. A Kremlin statement said Poroshenko told Putin about his plan for resolving the crisis in the east, but did not say whether they discussed the tanks.
The Ukrainian president also spoke Thursday with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Poroshenko has said he is willing to negotiate, but not with what he calls terrorists, and could offer amnesty to those who don't have "blood on their hands."
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said a "column" with armored vehicles had crossed from Russia through border control points controlled by separatists near the village of Dyakove in eastern Ukraine. Three tanks went to the town of Snizhne, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Dyakove, and one remained there while the two others headed toward the town of Horlivka and were engaged by the Ukrainian military, he said. He added that part of the column was destroyed.
Avakov said the incursion had been going on for three days and took place despite Russian statements of interest in a peaceful solution and promises to increase border controls.
- Associated Press