Russia and Ukraine have potentially good news for the Ukrainians devastated by the conflict between the Ukrainian government and eastern pro-Russian separatists: Russian aid is coming.
UPDATE 8/13, 9:24 AM EDT: Reuters is now reporting that Ukraine will not allow the convoy to enter the country. Ukrainian officials say that by allowing the trucks in, it encourages Russia to invade. Earlier this week Ukrainian officials said they would treat a convoy border crossing as a hostile invasion.
Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk alluded to his government's assertion that Russia is supplying pro-Russian separatists with arms in a meeting on Wednesday.
""First they send tanks, Grad missiles and bandits who fire on Ukrainians and then they send water and salt," he said. "The level of Russian cynicism knows no bounds."
The Russian government-owned ITAR-TASS reports that Ukrainian and Russian officials have agreed over a travel route and other guidelines for a convoy of 287 tractor-trailer trucks carrying 2,000 metric tons of food, supplies and medicine across the border from Russia. Ukrainian authorities initially declined the unilateral Russian aid mission, saying that Russia should hand over the supplies to international aid groups to deliver.
Now the convoy, which was headed to the border without the Red Cross’ blessing, appears to have permission to cross. Kiev said that the Ukrainian military will take “all measures… to ensure its security,” but refused to suspend its campaign against pro-Russian separatists for the delivery of aid. Ukrainian forces have made significant gains in the last week, surrounding the stronghold of Donetsk and cutting off rebel supply lines.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia gave into a handful of Ukrainian demands, according to ITAR-TASS:
“We have agreed to the route that is comfortable to the Kiev authorities. We have agreed to have Ukrainian license plates on our trucks during their movement in Ukraine,” Lavrov said. “We have agreed to take on not only representatives of the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] aboard the trucks, but also representatives of the Ukrainian authorities.”
Ukrainian and U.S. officials expressed concern that the aid mission would lead to an eventual Russian invasion, but Russian officials denied that.
“We believe Russia’s been trying to lay the international groundwork to support a humanitarian operation into Ukraine,” U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday. “We are concerned that Russia could try to use a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation as a pretense for inserting elements of military force into Ukraine.”
Andrei Purgin, the Vice-Premier of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said the much-needed supplies will go to Kharkov, the second-largest city in Ukraine, and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine. Planning for the aid drop-offs was nearly non-existent, as electricity outages have made communication to Luhansk almost impossible.