By Justin Sink - 06/13/14 05:11 PM EDT
Russia has supplied Ukrainian separatists with tanks, rocket launchers and other military vehicles, the State Department said Friday.
A convoy of three Russian tanks crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday.
“This is unacceptable,” Harf said, adding that the U.S. was “highly concerned.”
According to the State Department, the tanks were pulled out of warehouses in Russia, and pro-Russian militants in Ukraine were taught how to operate them.
Newly-inaugurated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed concerns over the tank deployment directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryClinton faces decision in Trump attack strategy Watchdogs warn of 'serious' conflicts of interest for Clinton Foundation Kerry: More 'work to do' in avoiding civilian casualties in Yemen MORE also complained to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“We call on Russia to use this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to peace, to stop weapons and fighters from crossing into Ukraine, and to cooperate with Ukraine in the peace plan's implementation,” Harf said. “A failure by Russia to de-escalate the situation will lead to additional costs.”
The move appears to be a setback after a series of signs indicating progress toward deescalating the crisis in Ukraine during a meeting of world leaders in Normandy last week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
During a private conversation between Putin and President Obama, the president pushed Putin to begin talks with Poroshenko, a pro-European chocolate magnate who won last month's Ukrainian elections — the first contest since Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-backed former president, fled amid mass protests. Putin and Porosheno also spoke during the meeting, and reportedly discussed the possibility of a ceasefire agreement.
A senior administration official called the Putin-Poroshenko discussion a “positive development” but said it was not a substitute for formally recognizing the election or taking additional de-escalatory steps.