Ukraine crisis: Russian 'aid' convoy heads straight for rebels in Luhansk as fears intensify of 'direct invasion'

Moscow orders more than 260 trucks to head straight for rebel-held border - after stopping off at a military base in southern Russia

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The Independent Online

A Russian convoy carrying "humanitarian aid" has turned away from its route towards a confrontation with government officials at the Ukrainian border - and is now heading straight for rebel-held areas.

The huge deployment of around 260 trucks towards eastern Ukraine has sparked international fears of a Trojan Horse-style invasion, as last night the Ukrainian president accused Moscow of potentially planning a "direct invasion of Ukrainian territory under the guise of delivering humanitarian aid".

Moscow said that the column of white spray-painted Kamaz trucks, which left a military depot outside the Russian capital early on Tuesday morning, was full of vital supplies ranging from baby food to sleeping bags.

It had been parked since late on Tuesday at an army base in the southern city of Voronezh while Russian and Ukrainian diplomats argued over how the aid might be received.

Video: Ukraine says no to Russian convoy

By taking the road south towards the rebel-held city of Luhansk, the convoy now appears intent on ignoring a tentative agreement which would have seen it cross the government-controlled border at Kharkiv, where it could be inspected by the international Red Cross.

The border at Luhansk is in the heart of the disputed region and largely rebel-held. Speaking on Tuesday, even the pro-Russian separatist leader Andrei Purgin said he did not expect the aid to be sent there directly.

Ukraine-2.jpgThe Red Cross has said that while it is aware of the existence of the Russian convoy, it has no knowledge of where it is headed and "no information" at all about its contents.

Kiev, the West and much of Europe have blamed Russia for providing arms and expertise in support of the rebels in eastern Ukraine, who have been battling government forces since April.

The conflict has killed more than 2,080 people, according to the UN's human rights office in Geneva, and left many more desperately short of food, water and medical aid.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted late on Wednesday that the operation was proceeding in full cooperation with the Red Cross - but did not comment on the route the convoy would take.