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Ukraine:Russian Convoy Direct Invasion 08/22 06:29

   Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday 
without Kiev's approval, saying its patience had worn out with the Ukrainian 
government's stalling tactics. Ukraine called the move a "direct invasion."

   URALO-KAVKAZ, Ukraine (AP) -- Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into 
rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday without Kiev's approval, saying its 
patience had worn out with the Ukrainian government's stalling tactics. Ukraine 
called the move a "direct invasion."

   The white-tarped semis carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags 
sent from Moscow are intended for civilians in the city of Luhansk, where 
pro-Russian separatists are besieged by government forces. Shelling of the city 
has been ongoing for weeks, cutting off power, water and phone lines and 
leaving food supplies scarce.

   In the past few days, Ukraine says its troops have recaptured significant 
parts of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city, and suspicions are 
running high that Moscow's humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at 
halting Kiev's military momentum. Fierce fighting has been reported both around 
Luhansk and the largest rebel-held city, Donetsk, with dozens of casualties.

   The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had planned to escort 
the Russian aid convoy to assuage fears that it was being used as a cover for a 
Russian invasion, said it had not received enough security guarantees to do so.

   Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko told reporters in 
Kiev on Friday that the Russia move was a "direct invasion" which "happened for 
the first time under the cover of the Red Cross."

   Nalyvaichenko insisted the men driving the aid trucks were Russian military 
forces trained to drive combat vehicles and said the half-empty trucks will be 
used to transport weapons to the rebels and take away the bodies of Russian 
fighters from eastern Ukraine.

   Ukraine had authorized the entrance of a few dozen trucks, but the number of 
Russian vehicles entering the country through a rebel-held border point was 
clearly substantially more than the agreed-upon amount. Ukraine has accused 
Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, a charge Russia denies.

   An Associated Press reporter saw a priest blessing the first truck in the 
convoy at the rebel-held checkpoint and then climbing into the passenger seat. 
A rebel commander on the scene said 34 trucks had gone through. On the Russia 
side of the border, an Associated Press reporter saw about 90 trucks going into 
the border customs zone.

   The vehicles' immediate destination was not known and it was not clear 
whether Kiev had granted its approval.

   "The Russian side has decided to act," said a statement on the Russian 
foreign ministry's website. "Our column with humanitarian aid is starting to 
move in the direction of Luhansk."

   The Red Cross said in a statement on Twitter that it is not escorting the 
convoy due to security concerns, as shelling had continued overnight.

   "We've not received sufficient security guarantees from the fighting 
parties," it said.

   A rebel commander on the scene who identified himself only by the codename 
Kot said the trucks were headed for Luhansk.

   Shortly after leaving the rebel-held border town of Izvaryne, the convoy 
left the main road to Luhansk and headed north onto a country road, parking in 
the village of Uralo-Kavkaz, possibly to avoid areas controlled by Ukrainian 
troops. In the early afternoon, part of the convoy proceeded further, but more 
trucks continued to arrive at the village.

   The road on which the Russian trucks are traveling appears to be same one 
also being used by rebel forces. Around lunchtime, around 20 green military 
supply vehicles were seen traveling in the opposite direction to the convoy. 
Some were flatbed trucks, while others were fuel tankers.

   The trucks from Moscow had been stranded in a customs zone for more than a 
week since reaching the border, as the two sides battled over where they should 
enter Ukraine. The Russian foreign ministry voiced increasing frustration at 
what it said were Kiev's efforts to stall its delivery, while Ukraine demanded 
that the trucks enter through a government-controlled border post.

   The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the government in Kiev of shelling 
residential areas that the convoy would have to pass through, thereby making 
its onward travel impossible.

   "There is increasingly a sense that the Ukrainian leaders are deliberately 
dragging out the delivery of the humanitarian load until there is a situation 
in which there will no longer be anyone left to help," it said Friday in a 
statement.

   In response to the Russian aid convoy, Ukraine's government mounted its own 
humanitarian supply operations for those affected by fighting in the east. The 
rebels have said they will not allow that material to enter their territory.

   The fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, a month after Russia 
annexed Ukraine's southern Black Sea peninsula. It has killed over 2,000 people 
and forced 340,000 to flee, according to the United Nations.


(KA)


 
 
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