The State Department early Friday evening confirmed earlier reports that three Russian tanks have crossed into eastern Ukraine to aid separatists fighting the government in Kiev, a move that occurred while the global spotlight was focused on the spiraling violence in Iraq.
In a five-paragraph statement, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. has reviewed Internet videos showing the tanks leaving a site in southwest Russia and moving through multiple cities in eastern Ukraine, including Snizhne, Torez and Makiyivka.
“We assess that separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” Harf said.
Harf said the tanks are a type that Russian forces no longer use and predicted that Moscow would claim the tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces.
“But no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area. We are confident that these tanks came from Russia,” she said.
The U.S. also gathered intelligence showing Russia moving multiple rocket launchers into Ukraine with Internet video showing them to traveling through the city Luhansk.
Amid media reports pouring in late Thursday about an insurgent group seizing control of several Iraqi cities and threatening Baghdad, the BBC reported that Russian tanks were moving into eastern Ukraine.