Russian aid convoy heads for eastern Ukraine, but Kiev says it will deny it entry
Kiev says it will refuse entry to the trucks because they are not certified by the Red Cross and convoy may be a covert military operation
A convoy of 280 Russian trucks reportedly packed with aid headed for eastern Ukraine yesterday, but Kiev said it would deny the mission entry because it had not been certified by the Red Cross and could be a covert military operation.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were going. That has raised fears in Ukraine and the West, where leaders have voiced concern that Russia could use the initiative as a pretext for sending troops into separatist-held territory.
Russian television and news agencies reported that 2,000 tonnes of aid was en route to Ukraine, where fighting between pro-Russian separatists and government forces has claimed more than 1,300 lives since April.
Thousands of people are believed to be short of water, electricity and medical aid in the city of Donetsk and in the border town of Luhansk due to bitter fighting.
Pro-Kremlin television channel NTV showed hundreds of white trucks gathered at a depot outside Moscow, and said they were carrying everything from baby food to sleeping bags. The report also showed a Russian Orthodox priest sprinkling holy water on the trucks, some of which bore a red cross, before their departure.
But Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, said the convoy would not be allowed across the border.
"This convoy is not a certified convoy. It is not certified by the International Committee of the Red Cross," Lysenko said.
He also showed a covertly filmed video appearing to show vehicles similar to the whitecanopied trucks dispatched from Moscow on Tuesday parked at a military base in Russia. One frame showed uniformed troops lined up in front of one of the trucks.
Alexander Drobyshevsky, a spokesman for Russia's emergencies ministry which is conducting the mission, said his organisation had "not yet defined" where the trucks would cross the border. He said it could take several days for them to reach Ukraine.
"It looks like the initiative of the Russian Federation," he said.
The Ukraine government said it had agreed to an arrangement whereby aid could be transferred across the border and reloaded onto trucks approved by the Red Cross. But Kiev has insisted that aid must cross at a government-held border crossing. At least 100km of the border is currently in rebel hands.
Andre Loersch, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Ukraine, said that while the organisation had reached a general agreement about delivery of humanitarian aid to the region, he had "no information about the content" of the trucks and did not know where they were headed.
Ukrainian presidential aide Valery Chaly said that any attempt to take humanitarian goods into Ukraine without proper authorisation would be viewed as an attack on the country.
French President Francois Hollande took up the issue directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying "he emphasised the strong fears evoked by a unilateral Russian mission in Ukrainian territory".
Hollande told Putin yesterday that any mission had to be multilateral and have the agreement of the Red Cross and Ukraine, according to a statement released in Paris.
With Ukraine reporting Russia has massed 45,000 troops on its border, Nato said on Monday that there was a "high probability" Moscow might now intervene militarily in Ukraine.
Additional reporting by Reuters