ASPEN, Colorado, July 24 Russia's military is
likely a reluctant participant in Ukraine's conflict, the top
U.S. military officer said on Thursday, adding that although he
had not spoken to his Moscow counterpart in about two months he
was keeping an open line of communication.
"I think the Russian military and its leaders that I know
are probably somewhat reluctant participants in this form of
warfare," General Martin Dempsey said, noting Russia's use of
both conventional forces along the border and of proxies inside
His comments came as the United States accused Russia of
firing artillery across its border with Ukraine to target
Ukrainian military positions in the conflict with pro-Russian
The State Department also said there was evidence that
Russia intended to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple
rocket launchers to the separatist forces.
"I think it does change the situation," Dempsey said,
speaking at a security forum in Aspen, Colorado. He added that
instead of de-escalating, Russia's president Vladimir Putin has
"actually taken a decision to escalate."
Russia has in the past denied it is directly involved with
the rebellion in its western neighbor.
Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March strongly
boosted Putin's popularity at home. But relations with the West,
already at their lowest since the Cold War, dived further after
a Malaysian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine last
Thursday, killing the nearly 300 people on board.
The United States says it believes a Russian-made SA-11
ground-to-air missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern
Ukraine brought down the jetliner.
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced
concerns about the implications of Russia's actions on its ties
with the United States and with Europe.
"My real concern is that having lit this fire in an isolated
part of eastern Europe, it may not stay in eastern Europe. And I
think that's a real risk," Dempsey said.
"I'm keeping an open line of communication with my
counterpart and he's doing the same with me."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Michael Urquhart)