Moscow has information that the convoy delivering humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine may be attacked by Kiev’s forces, with the “punitive” Aidar Battalion planning to mine the road that the vehicles will use, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.
On Friday, Moscow accused Ukraine of attempting to disrupt the humanitarian aid convoy now that the preparations for its delivery have reached their final stages and all key issues have been agreed upon.
“We draw attention to the sharp intensification of military actions by Ukrainian forces with the obvious goal to block the route, agreed upon with Kiev, of the humanitarian convoy from the Russia-Ukraine border to Lugansk,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
In Moscow’s view, all this gives the impression that there are people both in Ukraine and abroad who are willing to disrupt the humanitarian mission, even “at the cost of new casualties and destruction.”
“Those nurturing such criminal plans are taking huge responsibility for their consequences,” the ministry said.
The Pentagon sought an explanation about the humanitarian convoy, stating that “Minister Shoygu 'guaranteed' that there were no Russian military personnel involved in the humanitarian convoy, nor was the convoy to be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine.”
In the meantime, anti-Kiev forces have announced they captured an enemy reconnaissance unit near Lugansk, tasked with attacking the Russian humanitarian convoy.
According to anti-Kiev forces, tree men were detained on Chevrolet Niva, in the trunk of which militia found “three grenade launchers and eight cartridges for them, seven anti-tank mines, small arms and a metal box for storage of ammunition." The weapons were hidden in pasta bags, the headquarters of self-defense forces told Itar-Tass.
At the same time saboteurs were reportedly ordered not to destroy the convoy but only get the column to turn back to the Russian border and not deliver food to the struggling residents.
Russia sent a convoy of 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid – such as medical supplies, food, including baby food, sleeping bags and other basic necessities – to conflict-torn southeastern Ukraine on Tuesday. The convoy is currently stuck near the Ukrainian border, and is awaiting final approval from Kiev before moving forward.
Russia also reiterated that it would carry out the agreements reached with the Ukrainian government and the ICRC on delivering aid to Donbass residents as quickly as possible and in full.
“We are doing everything we can to provide security for this mission,” the Foreign Ministry said. Russia urged both the Kiev military and the east Ukrainian militia to immediately announce a ceasefire to allow the humanitarian convoy to reach Donbass residents.
Moscow said it hopes its efforts will receive support from the ICRC, the OSCE and the UN.
Humanitarian aid to the residents of the Ukrainian regions devastated by the ongoing fighting was also discussed on Friday in a phone conversation between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers. They stressed that international organizations should take a “more efficient and responsible” part in the fulfillment of the humanitarian mission, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
An immediate ceasefire is necessary to create humanitarian corridors for aid delivery and the evacuation of civilians from conflict zones in eastern Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, discussing the situation on the phone with his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The Russian aid convoy’s path to Ukraine has been rather thorny, as Kiev has kept debating whether it will accept it or not, and has feared it could be a “Trojan Horse.”
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who met Friday with Vladimir Putin, said he hoped that the Russian aid convoy would pave the way for a ceasefire between the Kiev government and self-defense militias in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking after talks with the Russian president in Sochi, Niinisto said an agreement had been reached between Ukraine, Russia and the International Committee of the Red Cross to let the aid convoy enter eastern Ukraine, Reuters reported.
“We hope that this news is a testimony to the potential strengthening of mutual trust and we very much need this mutual trust to take the next step... That is for a ceasefire,” he said.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Finnish president, who spoke through a translator, was simply referring to an agreement between Moscow and Kiev that the mission could cross into Ukraine once it had been inspected, cleared and handed over to Red Cross supervision.
The ICRC in Geneva said it was not aware that any final agreement had been reached.
— ICRC (@ICRC) August 15, 2014
In a statement released earlier Friday, the organization said that Russia and Ukraine were finalizing practical details.
“As and when agreement is reached, we plan to deliver this humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict in eastern Ukraine, health facilities and other welfare organizations,” Laurent Corbaz, ICRC head of operations for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “People are struggling to cope with limited access to basic services such as water and electricity, so speed is of the essence.”
In addition to a five-person ICRC team already present in the vicinity of the Russian convoy parked in the Rostov region, 15 more staff were also sent to the region. Another team was deployed to Starobelsk, in the Lugansk region, where a Ukrainian aid convoy of around 50 trucks arrived Friday, according to the ICRC statement.
The ICRC said they needed “assurances from all parties to the conflict that our staff will be allowed to perform their tasks safely and with due respect for our humanitarian principles.”
“Given the complex logistics and security challenges involved, this aid operation will take some time and we call on the authorities of both countries to do all they can to resolve outstanding issues quickly,” Corbaz said.