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Russian Aid Convoy Enters Ukraine, Undeterred

August 22nd 2014

Witnesses say the first trucks from a Russian aid convoy crossed the border into Ukraine without official permission from Kyiv after Moscow said it was tired of waiting. Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement on August 22 that all excuses for the delay have been "exhausted" and that the convoy was heading toward the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Luhansk, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces. Luhansk has been without running water, electricity, and phone service for at least 20 days.

Russia's foreign ministry said Ukraine had held up the convoy in order to pursue war against rebels surrounded in Luhansk, where the aid is destined. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was "not part of that convoy in any way." The stream of 70 white trucks that entered Ukraine is being escorted by rebel fighters. "Our humanitarian aid convoy is starting to move towards Luhansk," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, while it warned against any action on the part of Ukraine. Russia did not specify the consequences.

"We are warning against any attempts to sabotage this purely humanitarian mission, which was prepared a long time ago, in an atmosphere of full transparency and in co-operation with the Ukrainian side and the ICRC," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. Delays in Ukrainian clearance for the trucks had "become unbearable", it said. "All excuses for blocking the delivery of aid to people in the area where this humanitarian catastrophe is happening have been exhausted," it added. "The Russian side has decided to act. Our convoy carrying humanitarian aid is beginning to move towards Luhansk."

Witnesses on the scene reported that pro-Russian combatants ranged ahead of the convoy as it penetrated the border, near the rebel-held sector close by the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky. In normal times, that would be a drive of about two hours to the city of Luhansk. However, continued fighting between Ukrainian and rebel forces may halt the advance of the convoy on the highway leading to the embattled city. A Red Cross spokesman in Moscow said that it had not "received the necessary security guarantees from the fighting parties to allow us to escort the convoy at this time,” while he cited "heavy shelling overnight" in Luhansk. "We understand that the convoy is now moving, however the ICRC is not part of that convoy in any way," the spokesperson added.
The Russian branch of the International Red Cross Committee said earlier it was ready to take part in the relief operation and was contacting its international colleagues.

Ukraine fears that the aid convoy of at least 260 trucks, which arrived at the border about 10 days ago, is actually a part of a larger Russian intervention on its soil. Russia has consistently denied accusations that it provides arms and training to pro-Russian rebels in Luhansk and the neighbouring region of Donetsk, where four months of fighting have left more than 2,000 people dead. More than 330,000 people have fled their homes. 

On August 21, Ukrainian officials said border guards had begun checking the Russian aid convoy that had been stalled at the border for days, waiting for permission to enter the country. A series of steps were to be completed,  including inspection by the Red Cross. The Red Cross had waited several days for security guarantees from all sides before approaching the convoy. The Kyiv government, which accuses Russia of arming and otherwise supporting the rebels, has voiced suspicions that Moscow is using the convoy as a pretext for a full-scale invasion. Moscow on has called the accusation "absurd."

On August 20, Ukraine's national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said troops have reclaimed control of the eastern city of Ilovaysk after heavy fighting with pro-Russian separatists. The town is strategically important because of its roads and rail line. Bombardment of Luhansk continues, unabated, according to rebel officials. Lysenko told reporters he cannot say that the city is "freed of terrorists," but said Ukraine’s military have managed to "enter the town completely." Rebel fighters continue to launch counter-attacks against troops in the area.

Ukraine is close to surrounding Donetsk, according to its military. Also on August 20, Lysenko told reporters a Ukrainian SU-25 single-seat fighter jet was shot down near Luhansk. The identity of the shooters and the fate of the pilot are unknown.

Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, is set to attend a meeting next week with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to address the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko's office described the August 26 summit in Belarus as an effort aimed at "stabilizing the situation in Ukraine."  The summit meeting will be the first since a brief encounter in France in June, and opens the possibility of direct talks for the first time since pro-Russian rebels launched a rebellion in the east in April.

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas is also the editor of Speroforum.com


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