Moscow, which has thousands of troops close on the Russian side of
the border, warned against any attempt to "disrupt" the convoy but
did not specify what action it was prepared to take if Kiev's forces
Kiev, for its part, said Ukrainian forces would not attack the
convoy and had allowed it to pass to avoid "provocations".
"Ukraine will liaise with the International Committee of the Red
Cross so that we, Ukraine, are not involved in provocations
(accusations) that we have been holding up or using force against
the vehicles of so-called aid," he told journalists.
The Ukraine conflict has driven relations between Moscow and the
West to their lowest level since the Cold War, with Western states
imposing sanctions on Moscow and the Kremlin retaliating. NATO has
deployed extra troops in member states bordering Russia.
A Reuters witness said some 70 white-painted trucks, part of a
column of about 260 that had been waiting at the border for
permission for over a week, had crossed onto Ukrainian soil and was
heading toward the rebel stronghold of Luhansk escorted by a small
number of pro-Moscow separatist fighters.
Ukrainian authorities gave the number of trucks which had crossed
variously as 34 and 90.
"They passed into Ukraine without clearance or participation of the
International Red Cross or (Ukrainian) border guards," Ukrainian
military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.
"We consider this a direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine," Ukrainian
state security chief Valentyn Nalivaychenko said in a separate
statement to journalists.
In response to a question whether Ukraine would use air strikes
against the convoy, Nalivaychenko said: "Against them, no."
But Ukrainian authorities said the convoy would pass through an area
where the rebels were firing and that therefore its security could
not be guaranteed.
Luhansk region has been a major focus of conflict in recent days
between rebels, who have declared an independent republic, and
Ukrainian forces. Luhansk city itself has seen fighting.
Moscow had earlier expressed impatience with holdups at the
"All excuses to delay sending aid have been exhausted," the Russian
foreign ministry said in a statement. "The Russian side has taken
the decision to act.
"We warn against any attempts to disrupt this purely humanitarian
mission," it added.
"Responsibility for any possible consequences of provocations ...
will lie, completely and entirely, with those who are prepared to
further sacrifice human lives for the sake of their ambitions and
[to top of second column]
RED CROSS DECLINES TO ESCORT
The International Committee for the Red Cross, which both Moscow and
Kiev had agreed should supervise the convoy, said it was not
escorting it "due to the volatile security situation".
Kiev has been using troops, artillery and air power in an attempt to
quell a separatist rebellion that broke out soon after Russia
annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March. The last few
weeks has seen a string of rebel defeats in a conflict that has
killed over 2,000 people.
Kiev and Western capitals have expressed concern that the convoy
could be used as a pretext for some form of direct Russian military
intervention. Russia, at odds with Kiev since popular protests drove
a pro-Russian president from office, denies the accusation as
Russia says the aid trucks contain food, medical supplies, water and
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday he would call
on President Vladimir Putin to rein in pro-Russian separatists when
the two men meet next week and told the Kremlin chief he had "a
strong country, a strong army" behind him.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to visit Kiev on
Saturday to show her support for Poroshenko - but diplomats say she
is also bearing a message that he should consider calling a
ceasefire so as not to incur a backlash from Putin.
The dispatch of the Russian convoy onto Ukrainian territory greatly
complicates the situation, presenting Ukraine with a stark choice of
whether or how to confront what it sees as an illegal incursion.
The Foreign Ministry and Border Guard in the former Soviet republic
of Ukraine had no immediate comment on the announcement from Moscow.
Russia denies sending arms and advisers to help the rebels.
After four months of fighting in the industrial, Russian-speaking
eastern Ukraine, the area faces a humanitarian crisis, lacking
supplies of food, medicine and clean water.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Alessandra Prentice and
Richard Balmforth in Kiev)
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