The Obama administration Friday condemned the unauthorized entry of a Russian convoy into embattled eastern Ukraine, warning that the Kremlin would "bear additional consequences" for the move.
Unless Russia removes the convoy it "will face additional costs and consequences from the United States and our partners in the international community," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.
In a statement issued a little while later, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the entry violated Ukraine's sovereignty. Russia, she said, "will bear additional consequences."
Their words suggested that the White House is preparing a further tightening of the U.S. sanctions on Russia, and hoping Europe will follow suit. The administration has already penalized Russia with several sets of sanctions, but it has so far withheld the furthest-reaching sanctions.
Britain also condemned the Russian move as provocative.
The Kremlin contends that the convoy aims to bring humanitarian aid to the cities in eastern Ukraine that have been at the center of fighting between the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists. But the Kiev government fears that the convoy — hundreds of repainted military trucks — aims to strengthen Russia's military support of the separatists at the moment when Ukrainian forces seem poised to retake the militant enclaves.
The Kremlin said it had ordered the entry because it had grown tired of waiting for Ukrainian clearance to move into the region.
Hayden said Ukraine had not given Russia permission for the trucks to enter because it had not received guarantees from the separatists that the convoy could move safely through its territory.
Rhodes did not echo NATO's declaration early Friday that Russia had moved artillery pieces into Ukraine to support the militants. But he said such a move would fit with Russia's "disturbing" pattern of moving forces into place to strengthen the separatists' military position.
Hayden said Russia "maintains a sizable military force on the Ukrainian border capable of invading Ukraine on very short notice. It has repeatedly fired into Ukrainian territory, and has sent an ever increasing stream of military equipment and fighters into Ukraine."
"As a result, the international community has been profoundly concerned that Russia's actions today are nothing but a pretext for further Russian escalation of the conflict," the statement said.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, estimated Friday that the Russian troop concentration on the Ukraine border is "north of 10,000." He said U.S. officials "don't have a perfect picture" of what is inside the Russian trucks.
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