Ukrainian army will block ‘unauthorised’ huge Russian aid convoy at border amid fears it could become pretext for invasion
Kiev and the West already accuse Russia – which reportedly now has a huge army amassed on the border – of supplying rebel fighters
A convoy of almost 300 Russian trucks has departed for eastern Ukraine, state media reported, despite warnings from the West that an unauthorised intervention would “violate international law”.
It sets Ukraine and Russia up for a direct confrontation at the border, after officials in Kiev declared that the convoy will be blocked from entering the country.
On Monday an international agreement was reached whereby all aid to the region would be approved and distributed by the Red Cross – which said today it had “no information” about Russia’s actions.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, said the Russian aid consignment had not been certified by the Red Cross and as such would not be admitted.
Thousands of people are believed to be desperately short of food, water and medical aid due to the fighting, which has seen more than 1,300 people killed.
But with Ukraine reporting that Russia has amassed 45,000 troops on the border, Kiev says there is a “high probability” that Moscow could intervene militarily.
The Russian Itar Tass news agency said that the convoy of 280 vehicles had departed from near Moscow on Tuesday morning, meaning it would be between one and two days before it arrived at the eastern Ukrainian border.
The Russian convoy of 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine set off amid Western warnings against using help as a pretext for an invasion
Andre Loersch, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Ukraine, said the organisation had “no information about the content” of the trucks and did not know where they were headed.
“At this stage we have no agreement on this, and it looks like the initiative of the Russian Federation,” he said.
A Ukrainian military convoy moves along a road near Donetsk August 9, 2014
The former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma, who has been acting as a mediator in the conflict, told the Interfax news agency that Russia would allow its consignment of aid to be accompanied by monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The aid is most urgently needed in the largely rebel-held province of Luhansk. Its capital had a pre-war population of 420,000, and the 250,000 remaining have been without electricity or water supplies for nine days.
But with it still unclear where the Russian convoy would try to enter the country, even the rebel leadership appeared to have no clear notions on how it would be handled.
“Theoretically, the convoy should go through Kharkiv to Luhansk. This column is intended for Luhansk, but where it will go in practice we will see,” said Andrei Purgin, a leader in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.
Kiev and the West have repeatedly opposed any Russian humanitarian aid mission to east Ukraine, fearing that such a move would open the door to further intervention by Moscow. Throughout the conflict, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of aiding the rebels with arms and expertise, a charge that the Kremlin has denied.
After announcing the aid mission on Monday, the US President Barack Obama and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a joint statement saying that “any Russian intervention in Ukraine without the formal, express consent and authorization would be unacceptable and a violation of international law”.
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