Ukraine crisis: Russia 'guarantees' Putin aid convoy will not be used for 'direct invasion'

The convoy has been stalled at the eastern Ukraine border

Russia has “guaranteed” that no military personnel are inside hundreds of trucks in a Russian aid convoy waiting to enter Ukraine, as fears continued of a "direct invasion".

Border guards have arrived to inspect the trucks, but have still not cleared it to enter amid concerns the trucks could be a Trojan Horse.

A tentative agreement saw the shipment enter through a government-controlled checkpoint near Donetsk to be inspected by the international Red Cross, who have been asked to ensure they only contain aid for those in the troubled east of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials are concerned that the mission including around 260 trucks could be a guise for Russia to establish a permanent presence in the rebel-held territory, whom Kiev and Western countries claim are backed by Moscow.

The US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had been "guaranteed" by his Russian counterpart that no Russian military personnel were involved in a humanitarian convoy that approached Ukraine's eastern border.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu assured Mr Hagel the convoy "was not to be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine,” a spokesman said.

Mr Shoygu also "acknowledged that the goods would be delivered and distributed under the International Committee of the Red Cross".

Earlier, Ukraine claimed to have destroyed part of a Russian armoured column that entered its territory overnight, an allegation that two UK journalists claimed to have seen.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry insisted no military vehicles have been destroyed because none had crossed into Ukraine, dismissing the claim as “some kind of fantasy”.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed nearly 2,100 lives, half of those in the last few weeks as the Ukrainian troops regained more and more rebel-held territory. It began in April, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

The aid is most urgently needed in the eastern city of Luhansk, which has suffered extensively from an intense military barrage over the last few weeks. The city remains cut off from power and water supplies, and its mobile and landline telephone systems barely function, authorities say.

Additional reporting by agencies

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