A passer-by stops to look at armed pro-Russian separatists
at a town centre in Snizhnye in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has accused Russia of allowing separatist rebels
to bring three tanks and other military vehicles across the
border into the east of the country to fight the Ukrainian
Evidence that Russia is sending in weapons or assisting the
rebels militarily would implicate Moscow in the uprising
against Kiev's pro-Western leaders, making a mockery of its
denials that it has played a role in weeks of fighting.
Interior Minister Arseny Avakov stopped short of directly
accusing Russia of sending the tanks but made clear he held
President Vladimir Putin responsible for failing to carry out
a promise to tighten controls at the border.
In a sign of his concern, President Petro Poroshenko
discussed the situation with his defence and security chiefs
and then told Putin by phone that the situation was
"unacceptable", his spokesman said.
Reuters correspondents saw two tanks in the border town of
Snizhnye in east Ukraine but said it was not clear where they
had come from or whether they had previously been used by the
Russian or Ukrainian army. They had no identifying markings
to show whether they were Russian army tanks.
"We have observed columns passing with armoured personnel
carriers, other armoured vehicles and artillery pieces, and
tanks which, according to our information, came across the
border and this morning were in Snizhnye," Avakov told
reporters in Kiev.
He said the columns had come across the border at a
checkpoint or checkpoints seized by rebels "despite the
Russian Federation's statements that it welcomes the peace
process and that the order has been given to strengthen
One column, Avakov said, had entered Ukraine in the Dyakove
area of the Luhansk region before moving into the
neighbouring Donetsk region. Ukrainian forces had confronted
"There is fighting going on," he said. "Part of the column
has been destroyed."
Russia did not immediately respond to the accusations and it
was not clear how Putin reacted to Poroshenko by phone. His
country has already been hit by U.S. and European Union
sanctions over events in Ukraine and could face more.
Confirmation of direct Russian involvement in the rebels'
uprising would raise the stakes in Moscow's worst standoff
with the West since the Cold war ended more than two decades
The separatists, who rose up after Poroshenko's predecessor
was toppled and fled to Russia in February, deny receiving
anything but medical supplies, food and clothing from Russia.
"Russia is helping, of course, with humanitarian aid, food,
things, medicine, gear. We won't refuse that," a rebel said.
Russia has repeatedly denied providing military support to
the rebels who have taken control of several towns and cities
in east Ukraine and hope that Russia will annexe the region,
as it did the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier on Thursday
repeated Moscow's view that the onus for ending violence lay
with Ukraine because it has launched a military operation
against the rebels.
But he backed Poroshenko's efforts to push through a peace
plan the president has drawn up and discussed with Putin.
"So far, hope remains that President Poroshenko's statements
about the end of violence will be implemented and the talks
start," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as
Few details of the phone call between Putin and Poroshenko
were available but the latter's spokesman wrote on Facebook
that the Ukrainian leader put a heavy emphasis on the tank
The presidents met for 15 minutes during World War Two
anniversary events in France last week, but it was their
first known conversation since Poroshenko was sworn in on
Poroshenko has also been having meetings with a Russian envoy
in Kiev and his aides say progress has been made, but talks
on a long-running gas-pricing dispute have stalled.
Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Gazprom, made clear the
state-run natural gas exporter would not extend a deadline
for Kiev to pay its huge has debts for a third time to allow
more time to reach a deal at talks.
He said a Monday deadline would stand, and Gazprom would cut
supplies to Ukraine if it did not to pay off $1.95 billion of
its gas debts by then. Cutting supplies to Kiev could disrupt
deliveries to the European Union, which gets about a third of
its gas imports from Russia, half of them via Ukraine.