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US says evidence links Russia to rockets

Satellite images reportedly show craters in Ukraine

The State Department says this satellite image shows land damage caused by rockets launched from Russian territory.

US State Department

The State Department says this satellite image shows land damage caused by rockets launched from Russian territory.

WASHINGTON — Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the United States on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.

The images, which came from the US director of national intelligence, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.

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The four-page memo is part of the Obama administration’s push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine, and the release could help to persuade the United States’ European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.

The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was ‘‘imminent.’’

Moscow has angrily denied allegations of its involvement in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s foreign ministry over the weekend accused the United States of conducting ‘‘an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies.’’

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, urging him to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, said a State Department official.

Kerry did not accept Lavrov’s denial that heavy weapons from Russia were contributing to the conflict, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the call.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

The US images reportedly show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit. The rockets can reportedly travel at least 7 miles.

The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have ‘‘fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.’’

Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows ‘‘ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units.’’

‘‘The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicate fire from multiple rocket launchers,’’ the memo said.

Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it called evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units ‘‘on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine.’’

Defense and intelligence officials are working on a plan that would enable the Obama administration to give Ukraine specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The plan, if implemented, would allow the Ukraine government to target these missile sites for destruction, the newspaper said.

The New York Times, which first reported on the plan Sunday, said it was unclear if President Obama would want to give Ukraine such information because it would amount to America getting more involved in the conflict.

Tensions have run high in that region since Russia seized Crimea in March, and Washington has been highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions.

More recently, US intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane. Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations, and social media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on July 17.

Moscow denies any involvement in the attack.

US officials said they still don’t know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday, they were unwilling to share evidence that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.

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