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US says Russia firing artillery into Ukraine

A Ukraine commando unit works on a mopping-up raid Friday, July 11, 2014 in Slovyansk, Ukraine.

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies have evidence that Russia is firing artillery at Ukrainian military positions from inside Russian territory, a State Department spokeswoman said Thursday.

Russia has boosted its support for Ukrainian separatists since a Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile July 17 over territory controlled by the separatists, U.S. officials said, including sending additional rocket launchers into the conflict zone.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple-rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

Some of the information, Harf said, is based on “human intelligence,” meaning information supplied by sources on the ground rather than intercepted communications or images from satellites.

When two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said they had been hit by missiles fired from inside Russia. U.S. intelligence analysts have not been able to determine how the jets were downed.

But fire from Russian soil would mark an escalation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for the separatist forces. Putin has refused to back down despite increased sanctions against Russian officials and threats of more to come. Russia has played down its military support for the separatists.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has agreed to send teams of observers to two posts on the 1,200-mile Russia-Ukraine border. Russia, which sits on the OSCE’s permanent council, refused to give observers access to other parts of the border.

“I find it deeply disappointing that Russia was only willing to accept international observers at two small checkpoints on its border with Ukraine,” Daniel Baer, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said in a statement.

“This will not provide any real accounting of Russia’s massive flow of illegal arms, funding and personnel,” Baer said.

A Russian military base near the city of Rostov-on-Don, about 100 miles east of the Ukrainian border, has been a staging area for multiple-rocket launchers, such as the truck-mounted system that U.S. officials believe fired an SA-11 radar-guided missile at the Malaysian airliner, said a senior Obama administration official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments.

In the days after the airliner crashed, U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian military sent a column of more than 100 vehicles into eastern Ukraine, including tanks, artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.

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