Tank column crosses from Russia into Ukraine: Kiev military

NATO has seen an increase in Russian troops and equipment along the Ukraine border and is looking into reports of Russian tanks crossing the border into eastern Ukraine, a NATO military officer said on Friday.

"We are aware of the reports of Russian troops and tanks crossing the border between Ukraine and Russia and are looking into these reports. We can confirm a recent increase in Russian troops and equipment along the eastern border of Ukraine," the officer said, on condition of anonymity.

"If this crossing into Ukraine is confirmed it would be further evidence of Russia's aggression and direct involvement in destabilizing Ukraine," he said,

It comes after the Kiev military said a column of 32 tanks, 16 howitzer artillery systems and trucks carrying ammunition and fighters has crossed into eastern Ukraine from Russia.

"The deployment continues of military equipment and Russian mercenaries to the front lines," spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing referring to Thursday's cross-border incursion.

A Russian armored personnel carrier, photographed in February 2014
Bulent Doruk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A Russian armored personnel carrier, photographed in February 2014

The report of a new Russian movement of armour across the border follows a charge on Thursday by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine that Kiev government forces had launched a new offensive - which Kiev immediately denied.

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Sporadic violence has continued since a Sept. 5 truce in a conflict that has cost over 4,000 lives.

But the ceasefire has looked particularly fragile this week, with separatists and the central government accusing each other of violations after separatist leaders held elections in self-proclaimed 'people's republics' last Sunday.

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"Supplies of military equipment and enemy fighters from the Russian Federation are continuing," Lysenko said. He added that five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 16 wounded in the past 24 hours despite the ceasefire.