Russia accuses US of smear campaign in Ukraine
Moscow denies Washington’s allegations that it is firing artillery across border into Ukraine and accuses Kiev of shelling Russian territory
Bloomberg in Washington
Russia yesterday hit back at US claims that it was firing artillery across its border into Ukraine, branding the allegations a "smear campaign" and accusing Kiev of shelling Russian territory.
The angry response came a day after Washington for the first time publicly alleged direct participation by Russia in fighting on behalf of separatists.
"Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions," US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington.
But she offered no evidence for what she described only as information "from our intelligence friends".
The allegations are at odds with Russian denials that the country is aiding the pro-Russian rebels fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.
"Due to the smear campaign against us that the US administration has begun … we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," a statement by the Russian foreign ministry said.
The foreign ministry said that Harf used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches" to sway public opinion against Russia.
It also accused the United States of supporting the "coup" in Ukraine and "pushing" it towards "cruel reprisals against the Russian-speaking population".
"Washington fully shares the responsibility for the bloodshed," it said.
Moscow also accused Ukraine of targeting Russian law enforcement officers by shelling across the border from eastern Ukraine where government forces are fighting pro-Russian separatists.
"Those who shot from Ukraine carried out the shooting purposefully with an intent to kill Russian law enforcement officials," said Russia's Investigative Committee, saying none of its officers had been injured.
Questions about Russia's role have grown since the downing of civilian flight MH17 as it flew over eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. The US has said a surface-to-air missile fired from territory held by the rebels in eastern Ukraine shot down the plane, while stopping short of alleging direct involvement by Russia.
The artillery fire from Russian military units near the border was aimed at Ukrainian military targets, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. He said there was no question that it was an escalation of Russia's military involvement.
The firing at Ukrainian military positions started about two weeks ago, a US intelligence official said. It had been from artillery and not mobile rocket launchers, the official added.
The Pentagon did not specify the location of the Russian artillery units or the artillery fire.
In her briefing on Thursday, Harf also said the US had "new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple-rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine".
Harf, a former spokeswoman for the CIA, declined to say how the US reached its conclusions on Russia's intentions and activity. "I can't tell you what the information's based on," she said.
At Slavyansk, in eastern Ukraine, local authorities said they had uncovered the first mass grave, containing the bodies of at least four civilians they claim were executed by pro-Russian rebels.
"We know there are others in the town but we don't know where. This is the first one we're excavating," said Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser.
Bloomberg, Reuters, Agence France-Presse