Reporters from The Guardian and The Telegraph say they saw "23 Russian armoured personnel carriers, supported by fuel trucks and other military logistics vehicles, crossing into Ukrainian territory" Thursday after nightfall. Russia denies it, but now Ukraine says that it must have existed, because they destroyed part of it.
According to the website of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the "given information" from the British papers "was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of that machines had been eliminated by the Ukrainian artillery at night." Poroshenko discussed the event with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Separately, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Ukrainian forces had tracked the Russian armored column as soon as it crossed onto Ukrainian soil.
"Appropriate actions were undertaken and a part of it no longer exists," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.
NATO accused the Kremlin on Friday of escalating the conflict in Ukraine, following reports of the overnight crossing.
"If confirmed, they are further evidence that Russia is doing the very opposite of what it's saying. Russia has been escalating the conflict, even as it calls for de-escalation," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.
Update: Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted that "If Ukrainian forces did indeed destroy regular Russian military forces in Eastern Ukraine, then this war has escalated in a major way," and that similarly the "Russian-Georgian war started in August 2008 [as] a Kremlin 'response' to an attack on Russian soldiers in South Ossetia." End of update.
Secretary of State John Kerry was hopeful earlier this week that peace would come soon to eastern Ukraine, which has been a warzone for over four months. The Obama administration's handling of the situation has very low approval, even among Democrats.
This week, Russia has been trying to send what it claims to be 280 trucks worth of "humanitarian aid" across the Ukrainian border. For days, no one knew what was inside the vehicles, which have military guards. Today, the Russians allowed press to view the interiors of some trucks and, strangely, "a lot of them [are] mostly empty," notes the Financial Times' Courtney Weaver who snapped photographs.
The trucks are trying to get into the rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are now surrounded by Ukrainian government forces.
The rebel hierarchy appears to be collapsing. A chief military commander Igor Girkin, a.k.a. "Strelkov" ("The Shooter"), quit yesterday. He was a colonel and intelligence officer for Russia before taking up arms for the "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk. Girkin is perhaps most notorious for taking responsibility for the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane before finding out that it was not a Ukrainian military plane. Russian media reported earlier this week that he was badly injured in Donetsk, but other separatists denied is as just a rumor.
The Moscow Times notes that two self-appointed political leaders have also resigned in the last week.
E.U. officials today suggested that if the situation stabilizes, the E.U. would consider ending sanctions against Russia. But if Ukraine's claim about defensive artillery strikes against invasive Russian fores proves true, stability may be a long way off.
Read more Reason coverage of Ukraine here.