Russia 'Sent Tanks and Artillery to Rebels During Peace Talks', Says Kiev

Separatist tank
Pro-Russian separatists ride on a tank at the town of Khartsyzk, east of Donetsk, December 7, 2014. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

The Russian armed forces sent 50 tanks, along with a succession of artillery and military supplies to territories held by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, while the leaders of the two countries were debating a ceasefire for the region last night, a Ukrainian defence and security spokesman has said.

While Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko and Russia's Vladimir Putin met with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Minsk, the capital of neighbouring Belarus, to discuss bringing an end to the violence in Ukraine's east which has killed over 5,000 people since last Spring, the Russian armed forces sent reinforcements to rebels in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's 'anti-terror' operation against the separatists in the east told Ukrainian daily newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda.

"Regardless of Russian officials' claims that there are no Russian military vehicles or servicemen in Ukraine, in the early hours of 12 February, in the area near the border town of Izvaryne, some 50 tanks crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border," Lysenko said.

According to Lysenko the tanks were followed by a delivery of 40 Russian multiple rocket launcher systems of at least three different kinds - Grad, Uragan and Smerch - as well as around 40 armoured personnel carriers (APCs).

The delivery was allegedly made from the Russian side of the border into a rebel-held sector of Ukraine's Luhansk region near the city of Krasnodon, while Poroshenko and Putin were in the midst of last night's 16 hour-long ceasefire talks - the longest talks of Putin's presidency according to Russian news agency Itar-Tass.

Meanwhile a spokesman for Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Ukrainian TV channel 112 Kiev is concerned the separatists may use the ceasefire to regroup and redistribute their forces.

The leaders of Russia and Ukraine agreed a ceasefire that is to take come into effect this Sunday.

A spokesperson for the president of Ukraine declined to comment on Lysenko's statement, but told Newsweek the president was due to discuss the state of the ceasefire in a briefing in Brussels "in the nearest future". Plans for the meeting were pushed back due to the unprecedented length of last night's discussions in Minsk.

However, some cast doubt on the claims. Petr Topychkanov, associate of the Carnegie Endowment for world peace, highlighted that "reports about these deliveries are still to be confirmed" and said that such a delivery would likely have proved a sticking point during the talks.

There have been reports of Russian military support for the separatists in Eastern Ukraine since the summer, despite the Kremlin's claims that its presence in the region is only humanitarian and any Russian soldiers are there on a voluntary basis. Most recently Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, asked Russia to cease its support for the militants in eastern Ukraine last month.

The Russian armed forces were unavailable to respond to allegations they were reinforcing the separatists during the Minsk meeting.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel told press the Minsk negotiations had provided "hope" of ceasing the violence in eastern Ukraine, while Putin told journalists that he and his counterparts had "managed to agree on the main issues".