The Russian “military trucks” that entered Ukraine on Friday, prompting a call of “invasion” by Ukraine, have returned to Russia, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Saturday.
Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that the Russian convoy had exited his country, according to a readout of the call provided by the White House.
Russia claimed Friday it forced entry of the convoy through the Ukrainian border without inspection because it could no longer wait while Ukraine delayed the delivery of humanitarian aid to war-torn regions in southeastern Ukraine.
But Ukraine, the U.S., Germany, and NATO all portrayed it as a major escalation in the conflict. The White House said Russia painted military vehicles to look like civilian trucks. It said Russia’s move violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law, and would force additional “consequences.”
The White House said Saturday that Biden “commended” Poroshenko for his country’s “restraint in the face of Russia’s blatant provocation.”
NATO said Friday for the first time that Russian artillery support was being employed against Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions. Poroshenko, the White House said, expressed concern about the continued escalation of Russia’s military activity in eastern Ukraine. He said Russia had fired artillery directly into the Ukrainian town of Novoazovsk.
“The Vice President noted Russia’s continued isolation in the UN Security Council, and pledged that the United States would continue working with its G-7 partners to respond to Russia’s destabilizing actions in Ukraine,” the White House said.
The West, Ukraine, and NATO said Russia’s move Friday raised questions about whether the true purpose of the convoy’s entry was to rearm and resupply pro-Russian separatists in the eastern region.
The Russian government, meanwhile, used the opportunity to paint its Western detractors as alarmist and to paint it as a public-relations victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. A spokesperson for its foreign ministry said it was curious that the U.S.’ “massive” intelligence-gathering operation had failed to acknowledge the departure of the convoy.
“It is surprising that Washington, possessing such arsenal of intelligence equipment which it constantly refers to, is unaware that Russia’s humanitarian convoy has left the Ukrainian territory and is now in Russia,” said Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson.
Putin and Poroshenko are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Minsk, the first meeting between the two leaders since June.
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