WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy-caliber multiple-launch rocket systems from Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over “potentially today.”
“We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple-launch rocket systems in the very near future,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.
Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and could happen “potentially today.”
“We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment,” he said.
Warren said it was unclear whether Russian operators of the rocket launchers might cross the border as well but he said there been indications of Russian operators of other systems going over.
A multiple-launch rocket system is a wheeled or tracked vehicle mounted with multiple tubes capable of firing a half dozen or more guided or unguided rockets in quick succession at targets scores of miles (km) away. The rockets are generally 100mm to 300mm, with those over 200mm in the heavier-caliber category.
“We’re very concerned with the quantity and the capability of weapons flowing from Russia into the Ukrainian separatists’ hands,” Warren said.
“There has been a continuous flow over the last several weeks of weapons and equipment from Russia to Ukraine,” he said, noting that the “most egregious example” was a column of more than 100 vehicles crossing the border.
The Pentagon’s assessment that a transfer of heavy weaponry was imminent came as Russian authorities accused Ukraine of firing a volley of mortar rounds across the frontier into Russia on Friday while a group of investigators was in the area assessing reports of cross-border shooting.