IZVARYNE, Ukraine (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Russia unilaterally sent an aid mission into rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday, saying its patience had worn out after a week of delays it blamed on the Ukrainian government, which called the move a “direct invasion.”
Trucks ostensibly loaded with water, generators and sleeping bags are intended for civilians in the city of Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatist fighters are besieged by government forces. Shelling of the city has been ongoing for weeks.
The relief supply mission proceeded despite both sides in the conflict ignoring pleas for a cease-fire, and without permission from Kiev, where leaders have suggested Russia might use the nearly 300 trucks to sneak in materials to support the separatists.
The Red Cross said it needed assurances of safe passage from all sides to bring in the supplies, but that it never was given those assurances. The organization confirmed that its staff were not accompanying the convoy, as called for by the agreement tentatively reached between Kiev and Moscow.
“The Russian side has decided to act,” said a statement on the ministry’s website. “Our column with humanitarian aid is starting to move in the direction of Luhansk.”
“The endless delays hampering the initial deliveries of the Russian humanitarian relief aid to southeastern Ukraine have become intolerable,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, which claimed it was solely the Ukrainian side holding up the delivery of the aid.
The statement insisted Moscow had “provided all essential security guarantees” to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and said the Ukrainian government had “delayed granting its formal consent required by the ICRC for several days, while repeatedly inventing new pretexts and stepping up attacks on Lugansk and Donetsk that involve military aircraft and heavy-duty armored vehicles, targeting residential areas and other civilian facilities.”
A Ukrainian official later said that the nation’s military would not take any military action against the convoy, and that while Kiev had not granted permission for the convoy to cross the border, the action was informally allowed to avoid “provocations.”
Ukraine’s Security Service chief, however, called the border crossing by Russia’s massive aid convoy a “direct invasion.” Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said the invasion “happened for the first time under the cover of the Red Cross.” It wasn’t clear why he had suggested Red Cross “cover,” as the organization did not appear to be involved in the movement of the trucks.
Nalyvaichenko said those driving the aid trucks were Russian military men trained to drive combat vehicles. He said the half-empty trucks would be used to transport weapons to the rebels and take the bodies of Russian fighters away from eastern Ukraine.
Russian television reports suggested the trucks were moving into territory held firmly by the pro-Russian separatists, and that they were being guarded and escorted by the rebels.
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