While the Ukraine conflict may not have erupted into World War 3 quite yet, the situation in the country’s bloody, 10-month long civil war grew even more alarming Saturday night, and into Sunday morning, as Russia appeared to ignore a cease-fire agreement that its own president, Vladimir Putin, signed earlier in the week.
The cease-fire went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning in eastern Ukraine — or 4:01 p.m. United States EST Saturday — but in the final hours leading up to the cease fire agreement, Russia sent what United States State Department called “large amounts” of arms, including tanks, missiles and rocket launchers, to pro-Russia rebels battling the Ukraine government there.
As the clock wound down toward what was supposed to be a stop to the fighting that has claimed, according to the Ukraine government, more than 5,300 lives including numerous civilians since April of 2014, heavy clashes between Russia-backed rebels and the Ukraine military raged in the region.
The Ukraine government said that seven of its soldiers were killed and 23 wounded in attacks by the pro-Russia forces, while the Moscow-backed rebels said that their troops suffered 12 fatalities and 40 wounded in the last-minute fighting.
But it was the massive shipments of arms from Russia that concerned U.S. officials, who fear that the deadly weapons will only increase the chance of shattering the fragile cease fire deal.
“We are very concerned about continued fighting along and beyond the line of contact including in heavily populated civilian areas and reports of additional resupplies of tanks and missile systems coming across the border from Russia in the past few day,” said U.S. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki. “The Russian military has deployed a large amount of artillery and multiple rocket launcher systems around Debeltseve where it is shelling Ukrainian positions.”
Psaki said the United States is “confident” that the heavy weapons belong to the Russian military, not the rebels.
The town of Debeltseve, as well as the eastern Ukraine town of Shirokino were said to be “significantly destroyed” by the rebel shelling, according Ukraine’s Major General Alexander Rozmaznin, a member of the commission assigned to minitor the cease fire.
Rozmaznin said that “many houses in (the towns) are on fire,” from the rebel attacks. He added that most civilians had already been evacuated from the towns, before the rebel shelling attacks.
On Friday, the United States said it had sent a fleet of 12 A-10 “Tankbuster” jets to the region, jets that were designed to destroy Soviet tanks during the Cold War.
[Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]