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U.S. Says More Russian Tanks Have Crossed Into Ukraine

Assistant Secretary Of State For European And Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland appears before a hearing on "U.S. Policy In Ukraine: Countering Russia and Driving Reform" in Washington on March 10.
Assistant Secretary Of State For European And Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland appears before a hearing on "U.S. Policy In Ukraine: Countering Russia and Driving Reform" in Washington on March 10.

WASHINGTON--The United States says Russia has transferred more weapons to separatists in recent days despite an ongoing cease-fire.

"We can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine," said Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland at a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on March 10.

Moscow has continually denied sending weapons and troops to the pro-Russian separatists.

Nuland said that Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed a year ago, and parts of eastern Ukraine are living under a "reign of terror."

"Today Crimea remains under illegal occupation and human rights abuses are the norm, not the exception, for many at risk groups there," said Nuland.

Among those at risk of persecution Nuland said were Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians who refuse to surrender their passports, homosexuals, and journalists.

Nuland said that the United States had begun initial conversations with European allies on more sanctions should Russia fail to implement the cease-fire or take more land.

The cease-fire that took effect on February 15 does not give Ukraine control over its border until a decentralization and reform process becomes law.

Nuland said that the transfers were "not compatible with either the spirit or letter" of the cease-fire reached in Minsk.

She said there was "incomplete compliance" by Russia on the Minsk agreements.

Brian McKeon, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, said it was "correct" that the United States has not been successful in getting Russia back into compliance with the Minsk agreements. He said that the United States was still "trying" to get Russia to comply with the cease-fire.

Ukraine's army said on March 10 that Russian-backed separatists violated the cease-fire by shelling government positions in eastern Ukraine, including attacks near the city Mariupol.

Nuland mentioned the shelling in her opening statement. "The picture is very mixed," she said.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of violating the cease-fire. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 10 that "full implementation of the Minsk agreements is essentially being blocked by the Kyiv authorities."

Nuland said she was comfortable with characterizing Russian actions as an "invasion," a word that the State Department had previously shied away from.

Many Democratic and Republican senators were exasperated that the Obama administration had not provided defensive lethal aid to Ukraine yet.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) said she had "frustration" about the "slowness at which we are providing assistance to Ukraine, on the weapons side, not just about the decision, which seems to be taking a very long time, but the other forms of assistance to the Ukrainian military."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) compared the decision process of sending arms to Ukraine to that the Obama administration's decision on arming the Syrian rebels, which Democrats and Republicans criticized for being too slow and not enough.

The officials' answer was that the decision on arming Ukraine was still under review and neither would offer a timetable for a decision.

"We have not answered the entire shopping list from the Ukrainians. There are a lot of factors that go into that," said Nuland.

McKeon said he could not comment on a bilateral meeting last month between Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The German Ambassador to the U.S. said in an interview with the AP news agency on March 9 that Obama agreed not to give defensive aid to Ukraine in the bilateral meeting last month to give space to diplomatic initiatives.

With reporting by AP

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