A convoy of military vehicles of the Ukrainian forces drives towards the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, in the region of Lugansk, on Friday. (GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The movement of Russian heavy caliber artillery systems across the border into Ukraine is "imminent," the Pentagon said Friday, saying Russia is escalating the military action there.
Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen the powerful rocket systems moving closer to the Ukraine border and they could be put into the hands of Russian-backed separatists as soon as Friday. He says he doesn't have an exact timeline.
U.S. officials warned this week that they had new evidence that Russia intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine. Warren told reporters Friday that the delivery could happen at any time, adding "it's that close" to the border.
Warren also said that Russia continues to fire artillery across the border into Ukraine.
"For the last several days Russian forces using Russian artillery from Russian soil have conducted attacks against Ukrainian military positions in Ukraine," said Warren. "This is unquestionably an escalation from a military perspective."
He declined to say what impact the attacks have had on Ukraine's military, but said the attacks are coming from the southern border area, near Rostov-on-Don.
Warren said the U.S. has seen no indications of Ukraine firing back into Russia and there have been no reports of civilian casualties. He said the number of Russian troops along the border continues to slowly but steadily increase. Close to 12,000 are there now.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the escalation had prompted the U.S. to discuss additional costs that might be imposed on Russia, referring to potential economic sanctions.
"It only underscores the concerns that the U.S. and the international community has about Russian behavior and the need for the Putin regime to change their strategy," Earnest said.
The Ukrainian army on Friday said soldiers had come under artillery fire from the Russian side of the border overnight and were attacked by rebels in several other places in the restive east.