Russian Aid Convoy Enters Ukraine Despite Protests (Updated)
The first vehicles of a Russian aid convoy have reached the war-torn Ukrainian city of Luhansk this afternoon, ignoring charges of ‘direct invasion’ by the government in Kiev.
The convoy of some 260 trucks has been reported to be carrying food, water, medicines, sleeping bags, portable electricity generators and other relief items for the people of Luhansk, which has been besieged by Ukrainian government forces fighting pro-Russian rebels since April.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow has decided to begin moving the convoy towards Luhansk despite lack of authorization from the Ukrainian government as “all of the pretexts for delaying the delivery of aid to the people in the region of the humanitarian catastrophe have been exhausted.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Friday confirmed that the convoy had crossed into Ukraine but said its representatives were not escorting it because the ICRC has not received “sufficient security guarantees from the fighting parties”. The organization said its team in Luhansk reported heavy shelling overnight.
AP quoted the head of Ukraine security service SBU Valentyn Nalyvaichenko as accusing Moscow of ‘direct invasion under the cover of the Red Cross’.
According to Nalyvaichenko, the trucks in the convoy were half-empty, suggesting the vehicles would be used to supply weapons to the rebels.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko described the entry of the trucks without Kiev's authorization as a "flagrant violation of international law."
NATO condemned the moving of a "so-called humanitarian convoy” across the border, saying Moscow’s unilateral decision was a breach of Russia’s international obligations.
"These developments are even more worrying as they coincide with a major escalation in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine since mid-August, including the use of Russian forces," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, as quoted by Reuters.
The European Union blasted Russia for what it described as violation of the integrity of Ukraine’s border. The European Commission urged Moscow to reverse its decision to move the convoy without Kiev’s permission because relief supplies could only be shipped and delivered under international supervision.
Kremlin denied breaching international law, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone that Moscow could no longer wait for Kiev's permission to help people in distress.
Luhansk has been subject to heavy artillery fire that has left food supplies scarce and cut off water, electricity and phone lines.
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