Report: Russian military firing artillery in Ukraine

Russia’s military has brought artillery units into Ukraine and is firing on Ukrainian forces, NATO officials said Friday, according to The New York Times.

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The activity marks a significant escalation of Russia's intervention in the Ukraine and, if confirmed, would be the first direct and open use of Russian forces in Ukraine. In recent months, Russia has annexed the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and provided military aid to pro-Russian separatists fighting in the east of the country.

The latest move comes as a Russian convoy that declared it was carrying humanitarian aid entered Ukrainian territory without Kiev’s permission.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander, condemned Russia's movements in Ukraine in a statement.

"Legitimate humanitarian aid should not be forcibly smuggled across international borders without consent and without the involvement of international aid agencies," the four-star general said in a statement.

He said the crossing without authorization or escort indicates Russia is "more interested in resupplying separatists rather than supporting local populations."

Breedlove said that Moscow has "previously sent ‘humanitarian’ and ‘peacekeeping’ efforts to Georgia, Moldova and Crimea, and we have seen how they proved to be deceptions that freeze conflicts rather than resolve them."

He called on Russia withdraw its troops immediately, cease the flow of weapons and operatives across the border, and use its influence with separatists to press for a return to diplomacy.”

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby during a briefing Friday said the U.S. "strongly condemned" the action and called on Russia to pull back its vehicles and personnel immediately.

Kirby said in a phone call last week Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu “guaranteed” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that no military personnel were traveling with the convoy.

Kirby added that the U.S. could reach out to Moscow later Friday to try to defuse the situation and warned that Russia risked “additional costs and isolation.”

Tens of thousands of Russian troops have been massed along the border with Ukraine since Crimea's annexation, and Western officials have accused Russia of supplying the separatists with heavy weapons, including a rocket system believed to have taken down a Malaysia Airlines jet.

The U.S. and European Union levied broad sanctions targeting key sectors of the Russian economy following the downing of the passenger plane.

— This story was updated at 1:31 p.m.

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