Moscow, Kiev closer to confrontation as aid convoy heads for rebel areas

Russians appear to disregard demands that all shipments be inspected by Ukranian government

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MOSCOW — A Russian aid convoy struck a new course toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, apparently flouting Ukrainian demands that all humanitarian shipments be subject to government inspections and prompting Kiev to threaten a direct confrontation if the convoy tries to pass through.

“Any at­tempt to introduce any con­voy with­out the agree­ment of Ukraine will be con­sid­ered an open ag­gres­sion,” Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary spokes­man An­driy Ly­senko told re­port­ers in Kiev. “The en­tire world will con­sider them di­rect ag­gres­sors.”

It is the sec­ond time in less than a week that ten­sions be­tween Ukraine and Rus­sia have flared over the con­voy, which Ukrain­ian au­thor­i­ties re­fused to al­low through a gov­ern­ment-con­trolled bor­der cross­ing in the Kharkiv re­gion ear­lier this week.

Early Thurs­day, the ve­hi­cles set off on their jour­ney south through Rus­sian ter­ri­tory along a high­way lead­ing from Mos­cow through ar­eas abut­ting Ukraine’s east­ern re­gions. By af­ter­noon, the con­voy had taken a sharp turn west­ward and was headed di­rectly for the Iz­varino bor­der cross­ing in the Lu­hansk re­gion, which is con­trolled by pro-Rus­sian sep­a­rat­ists.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials have main­tained that the con­voy of more than 250 trucks is a hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sion to pro­vide ci­vil­ians of war-torn Lu­hansk with food, blan­kets and other emer­gency sup­plies. But Ukrain­ian of­fi­cials fear that Rus­sia might use the mis­sion as a Tro­jan Horse to launch an in­va­sion of east­ern Ukraine.

On Mon­day, Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Petro Porosh­enko agreed to let Rus­sian and Euro­pean aid be sent to Lu­hansk un­der the aus­pices of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross. Rus­sia dis­patched the con­voy hours later, say­ing it was co­op­er­at­ing with the ICRC and com­ply­ing with the agree­ment. But Ukrain­ian and ICRC au­thor­i­ties said they had never cer­ti­fied the ship­ment.

Jour­nal­ists fol­low­ing the con­voy were al­lowed to in­spect the ve­hi­cles Thurs­day and saw large amounts of food sup­plies. But a re­porter for the Finan­cial Times also noted the pres­ence of two heavy mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles on flat­bed trucks bring­ing up the rear of the con­voy.

The pros­pect of di­rect con­fron­ta­tion be­tween the Rus­sian con­voy and the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary ap­peared to grow Thurs­day, as Kiev an­nounced that troops had seized the town of No­vos­vit­livka, be­tween Lu­hansk and the rebel-held check­point clos­est to the lo­ca­tion of the con­voy. The Wash­ing­ton Post could not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the gov­ern­ment’s ac­count.

But should the con­voy pass the Ukrain­ian mil­i­tary with­out hav­ing been checked by bor­der guards, Kiev will have to de­cide whether to fire on the trucks, risk­ing a Rus­sian in­va­sion, or ac­qui­esce to what would amount to a ma­jor vi­o­la­tion of Ukraine’s sov­er­eignty.

Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment on Thurs­day started send­ing its own aid ship­ments to the east, dis­patch­ing 75 trucks loaded with sup­plies. The aid was sent even as Kiev signifi­cantly es­ca­lated the bom­bard­ment of the rebel strong­hold Donetsk, where city of­fi­cials said two ci­vil­ians were killed af­ter a cen­tral bou­le­vard was shelled.

Although no white flags are wav­ing in those re­gions, lead­ing reb­els in Donetsk and Lu­hansk stepped down Thurs­day. Valery Bo­lotov cited in­ju­ries as his rea­son for pass­ing the lead­er­ship of the Lu­hansk reb­els to their “de­fense min­is­ter,” Igor Plot­nits­kiy. In Donetsk, chief de­fense leader and Rus­sian cit­i­zen Igor Gir­kin also stepped down, ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sian news ser­vice In­ter­fax. A Donetsk rebel spokes­man quoted in the re­port dis­missed ru­mors that Mr. Gir­kin had re­cently been in­jured as “a hoax.”

Russia - Eastern Europe - Europe - Ukraine - Moscow - Kiev - Donetsk - Petro Poroshenko


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