KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine on Friday accused Russia of sending dozens of tanks and other heavy weapons into its rebel-controlled easternmost regions.
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at least 32 tanks, 16 artillery systems and 30 trucks loaded with fighters and ammunition had crossed into eastern Ukraine from Russia. He said three mobile radar units loaded on trucks also crossed.
Lysenko provided no specific evidence, and it wasn’t immediately clear how his agency had obtained the information since parts of Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia have been under rebel control since August.
Ukraine and the West have continuously accused Moscow of fueling a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons. Russia denies those accusations.
Russia’s Defense Ministry had no immediate comment on Lysenko’s statement, but earlier Friday it again rejected Western allegations that Moscow was deploying more troops near the border.
Russia’s relations with the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the insurgency in the east. The United States and the European Union have slapped sanctions on Moscow, one of the reasons the value of the Russian ruble has plunged more than 40 percent this year.
Despite a cease-fire signed two months ago, Ukrainian troops and separatist rebels are still fighting near the airport of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk and a few other areas.
Hostilities appear to have intensified particularly in the Luhansk region, where rebels have made some gradual gains in recent weeks.
Lysenko said Friday that several villages in the region have come under sustained rebel fire from multiple rocket launchers and artillery. Five government servicemen were killed and a further 16 injured during the previous day’s fighting, he said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the military to beef up troop numbers on the front line to prevent further losses of territory to the rebels.
Tensions rose further after the rebels held an election Sunday that Ukraine and the West denounced as a violation of the Sept. 5 truce. Russia welcomed the vote, but in carefully chosen language.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, emphasized Friday that Moscow’s statement saying it “respects” the rebel vote doesn’t amount to its recognition. He added that Russia wants peace talks to continue.
Poroshenko’s office said in a statement Friday that the Ukrainian leader discussed the ongoing situation in the east with German Chancellor Angel Merkel in a telephone conversation.
Poroshenko told Merkel that conditions of the Sept. 5 truce are being increasingly flouted, which could lead to an escalation in the conflict.
He also complained that Russia has dispatched another humanitarian convoy into rebel-held regions without prior inspections by Ukrainian border officials or coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the statement said.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.