By Peter Leonard and Nataliya Vasilyeva , AP
NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine–Pro-Russia separatists, relaxed and well-equipped, held firm control on Friday of the strategic coastal town of Novoazovsk, a day after Ukraine claimed tanks and armored vehicles had invaded from Russia.
Associated Press reporters saw at least a half-dozen tanks in the town of about 12,000 people, bearing the flags of Novorossiya, the would-be state proclaimed by rebels in two eastern Ukraine regions. None of the tanks bore Russian markings, but ready-made meals seen near one of the tanks carried markings that they were issued by the Russian army.
“There is no Russian equipment coming through here. We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee,” said a rebel commander who identified himself only by the nom-de-guerre Frantsuz (The Frenchman).
Although such claims of using only confiscated Ukrainian equipment are common, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko himself has said Russia was supplying equipment and fighters. And Russia’s consistent rejection of the allegations is hotly dismissed by the West.
“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border,” NATO Secretary-General Ander Fogh Rasmussen said Friday. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”