Russian convoy heads to east Ukraine
Updated: 2014-08-13 07:42
By Agencies in Moscow and Kiev (China Daily)
A Russian convoy of 280 trucks carrying "humanitarian supplies" was headed to conflict-torn east Ukraine on Tuesday, despite warnings from the West that Moscow could be using the mission as a guise to sneak in troops.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had on Monday justified the mission citing "catastrophic consequences" of Ukraine's offensive against insurgents in eastern Ukraine, and said Moscow was working in collaboration with the Red Cross.
But the international aid agency said on Tuesday there was still no agreement on the issue, and France insisted such convoys should not be allowed to cross the border unless they met strict conditions, including Red Cross approval.
Suspicions about Russia's intentions are running high in the West, which has accused Moscow of fanning the insurgency in eastern Ukraine by supplying separatists with arms.
Kiev denies entry
Russia firmly denies the allegations, but NATO says Moscow has massed 20,000 troops along the Ukrainian border.
Ukraine said on Tuesday that it would not allow any Russian aid into the country if it was accompanied by the Russian military.
Referring to the big Russian convoy, Ukrainian presidential aide Valery Chaly said, "This cargo will be reloaded onto other transport vehicles (at the border) by the Red Cross".
As wrangling continued over potential aid delivery, besieged rebel-held cities warned of a looming humanitarian disaster as fierce fighting left residents without power, running water or fuel.
Medical and food supplies were also running low in the separatist bastions of Donetsk and Lugansk - both of which have been rocked by intense shelling in recent days.
Ukrainian forces have surrounded Donetsk, a rebel stronghold with a population of about 1 million, and the army said on Tuesday it was now ready to encircle Lugansk, another bastion with about 500,000 inhabitants.
If Kiev's forces consolidate their gains, they could cut off rebel access to the porous borders with Russia - from where Ukraine believes the weapons are being supplied.
As the fighting intensifies, Moscow has been pushing for such a humanitarian mission, and has even asked the West to back its plans.
'Cover by the Russians?'
But Kiev said at the weekend it had halted a Russian convoy accompanied by troops, although it gave no details.
As the trucks carrying 2,000 metric tons of humanitarian supplies, including medical equipment and baby food, headed to Ukraine, France reiterated the West's fears of a Russian trojan horse.
"We have to be extremely careful because this could be a cover by the Russians to set themselves up near Donetsk and Lugansk and declare a fait accompli," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.