In the past two days Kiev’s forces have launched several short-range ballistic missiles into areas in east Ukraine controlled by self-defense forces, CNN reports, citing US government sources.
The move “marks a major escalation” in the Ukrainian crisis, CNN said.
“Three US officials confirmed to me a short time ago that US intelligence over the last 48 hours has monitored the firing of several short-range ballistic missiles from territory controlled by Ukraine government forces into areas controlled by the pro-Russian separatists,” Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, said in a live report.
Short-range ballistic missiles can carry warheads of up to 1,000 pounds (450 kg) and are capable of killing dozens of people at a time, Starr said.
A Moscow correspondent for another American television network, ABC, tweeted Tuesday that the Kiev forces fired three ballistic missiles at self-defense forces near the town of Snezhnoe (Snizhne in Ukrainian) in the Donetsk Region. According to Kirit Radia, this is what a US official told ABC’s Pentagon digital journalist Luis Martinez.
Radia added that according to the official, it is likely that Ukrainian forces use such missiles since they do not want to risk their planes being shot down by sending them to the area.
The CNN gave no details regarding the exact missiles’ launch and impact point.
“In fact, the US is holding this information right now fairly tightly, officials say, because they are in an awkward position: these are, you know, the so-called ‘good guys’ firing ballistic missiles, Ukraine government forces,” Starr said on air.
So far, there has been no official reaction from Kiev and Moscow. The question now is how Washington – which has strongly backed the Kiev government – will comment on the revelations, CNN’s correspondent said.
Earlier this week, the US State Department released satellite images via email which it said act as “evidence” that Russia was firing rockets at Ukrainian troops across the border. Russia’s Defense Ministry stated in response that the “fake” images were created by American advisers “with close links to Ukraine’s Security Council.”
“Will we see the satellite imagery of the Ukrainians firing against the separatists? That may be a very tricky political question for the US intelligence community today,” CNN’s Starr said.
However, CNN’s correspondent in Donetsk, Nick Paton Walsh, said he had heard nothing of ballistic launches in the area and nothing of that kind has been openly discussed. He added, though, that it is no secret that both sides of the conflict were using “very heavy weaponry” against each other.
Russian military experts say that if the Ukrainian military did use ballistic missiles, most likely they would be Tochka-U (NATO Designation SS-21 Scarab).
Viktor Murakhovsky told RT that the military possibly used the missile against a fixed target, such as the militia’s staff headquarters.
“I’m talking about the Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile on a wheeled chassis, which the Ukrainian army has in its arsenal. It’s a Soviet-designed and produced missile. It may have a high-explosive fragmentation warhead or a disintegrating warhead,” Murakhovsky said.
Anatoly Tsyganok, the head of the Military Forecasting Center in Moscow, agreed that the Ukrainian army could have used the Tochka-U missile.