Ukraine pledges to block Putin's 'Trojan horse' aid
Ukraine has said it will not allow a mammoth Russian convoy reportedly carrying aid for the war-torn east to enter its territory and that any assistance should be handed over at the border.
"We will not consider the possibility of any movement of the Russian column on the territory of Ukraine," said Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the presidential administration, adding that any aid would have to be loaded onto transport provided by the Red Cross.
Russia despatched some 300 heavy lorries carrying humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine early yesterday amid NATO warnings that Russian military intervention in the civil war there is increasingly likely.
The move appears bound to raise tensions between the two neighbours, who have lurched dangerously close to war amid mutual accusations of cross-border shelling and incursions in recent weeks.
Russian media said 280 Kamaz lorries left the Alabino military base in the Moscow region in the early hours of yesterday morning, carrying aid bound for the residents of Ukraine's war-torn Luhansk region.
While the lorries rumbling south through the Russian countryside left from a military base and bear the black number plates of the Russian armed forces, Moscow insists that they are under the control of the Emergency Situations Ministry, not the army.
Moscow says the vast convoy is part of an agreement with the Ukrainian government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. But coming a day after NATO warned that there is a "high probability" of Russian intervention in Ukraine's four-month old civil war, the move has sparked fears that the convoy is a "Trojan horse".
The European Union's humanitarian aid chief on Tuesday called for the content of the Russian aid trucks to be scrutinised to ensure it does not serve political ends.
"It is very important that delivery of humanitarian aid anywhere, by anyone, complies with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence and that international humanitarian organisations are those who . . . help people affected by crisis," EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said, when asked about the Russian aid effort.
"No political or any other objectives must be pursued," she told a news conference.
"The content of humanitarian aid must be exactly that, humanitarian aid, and obviously cannot be taken on face value."
Also yesterday, French President Francois Hollande told his Russian counterpart he had "grave concerns" about the possibility of a unilateral Russian mission in Ukraine. And an International Committee of the Red Cross representative yesterday said the organisation had only learnt of the convoy's departure through news reports, and had no information about its contents.
"It took us by surprise. Last night we had a general agreement that some aid would be provided by the Russian Federation.
"The next stage was that Russia was to provide a detailed list of the items they wanted to provide," the spokesman said.
Speaking in Sydney yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "Our hope is that in the next days and weeks, we can find a way for President Petro Poroshenko and Ukraine to be able to work with the Russians to provide humanitarian aid in the east."
( © Daily Telegraph, London)