Conflict & Justice

Putin talks to Ukrainian president amid fears of military escalation


A Ukrainian soldier atop an armored personnel carrier near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.


Daniel Mihailescu

MOSCOW, Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko on the telephone Thursday to discuss Kyiv’s peace plan for eastern Ukraine, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed pro-Russian rebels besieging several cities in the region were prepared for a ceasefire but insisted that the Ukrainian authorities need to make the first step.

The news comes as Ukraine’s top cop claimed on Thursday that three Russian tanks and several other armored vehicles had crossed his country’s border in eastern Ukraine through a checkpoint controlled by separatist insurgents.

The Kremlin rejected the claim, made during a news conference by Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who also accused Russia of sabotaging the peace process it publicly supported.

Avakov said part of the column had attempted to move further into Ukraine before being attacked by government forces.

He added that the battle was still underway.

The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported Dmitry Tymchuk, a frequently cited and well-connected Ukrainian military analyst, as claiming earlier on Thursday that the tanks were T-72s, Soviet-era battle tanks in service with the Russian military but not in Ukraine’s.

He also claimed the armored personnel carriers were captured by Russian forces from Ukrainian military bases in Crimea shortly before Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula.

Those claims could not be independently verified.

Russia has consistently denied aiding the armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, which erupted shortly after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and claims to defend the area’s Russian-speaking population from what it says are the “fascist” authorities in Kyiv.

But volunteer fighters from Russia have played a key role in the rebel movement, a fact openly acknowledged by its leadership.

More from GlobalPost: Ukraine accuses Russia of allowing tanks across its border

They have filtered in through Ukraine’s porous eastern borders, the site of recent skirmishes between rebels and government forces.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin recently ordered Russian authorities to tighten control over his country’s border with Ukraine, Thursday’s alleged incursion — if confirmed — may prove awkward for the Kremlin.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the BBC on Thursday that Avakov’s claim was “inventive and… another fake piece of information.”

A top Ukrainian anti-terrorism official suggested on Thursday that Ukraine may block its border with Russia, the Ukrainian news site Ukrayinska Pravda reported.