KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said five salvos of heavy rockets were fired across the border near the town of Kolesnikov in the Luhansk region in the country's east. A border crossing point near Marynovka was fired on twice with mortars, also from the Russian side, while Ukrainian forces shot down three Russian drones, Lysenko said.
If true, the allegations mean Moscow is playing a more direct role in the fighting than it has been accused of up to now — a dangerous turn in what is already the gravest crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
In addition, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the U.S. has seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the Ukraine border and that they could be put into the hands of the Russian-backed separatists as soon as Friday.
It wasn't clear what those developments mean for the international investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. U.S. authorities believe the separatists shot it down with a missile, perhaps in the mistaken belief it was a military plane.
A small group of Dutch and Australian investigators combed the sprawling, unsecured field where the plane came down on July 17, taking notes and photos as their governments prepared police detachments they hope can protect the crash site and help bring the last of the 298 victims home.
U.S. officials said this week that they had new evidence that Russia intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatists. Warren said Friday that the delivery could happen at any time, adding "it's that close" to the border.
Warren also corroborated Ukrainian reports of artillery fire from Russia. He said there was no indication Ukraine had shelled Russia.
"For the last several days Russian forces using Russian artillery from Russian soil have conducted attacks against Ukrainian military positions in Ukraine," Warren said. "This is unquestionably an escalation from a military perspective."
Russia's Foreign Ministry responded to U.S. allegations about cross-border shelling by saying: "Facts and details to confirm these lying contentions do not exist."
The allegations come amid a Ukrainian government offensive against the separatists that has won back control of several important towns over the past few weeks.
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