- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2014

Russian humanitarian aid trucks steamrolled into Ukraine Friday in what critics considered as a “direct invasion” and an “illegal incursion” as the convoy pushed its way toward the eastern town of Lugansk.

Ukraine Security Service Chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko was quick to label the convoy as a “direct invasion,” The Associated Press reported.

The trucks are carrying food, water and medication to people who “are experiencing the horrors of daily artillery attacks and air strikes,” according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. The Russians are heading toward Lugansk without the accompaniment of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was a required chaperone for the trip.

In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that any attempts by Ukraine or any other country to thwart the “purely humanitarian mission” would risk turning escalating the situation and possibly sparking a full-fledged conflict.

“Those who are ready to continue sacrificing human lives to their own ambitions and geopolitical designs and who are rudely trampling on the norms and principles of international humanitarian law will assume complete responsibility for the possible consequences of provocations against the humanitarian relief convoy,” the Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, said Friday Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had previously assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that there would be no military members as a part of the Russian aid convoy.

Mr. Hagel and Mr. Shoigu spoke by phone several days ago. During their conversation, Mr. Shoigu “guaranteed” that the convoy would not be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine and that the goods “would be delivered and distributed under the International Committee of the Red Cross,” according to a readout of the phone conversation.

“We’ve made our position very very clear that they should not be doing this under the guise of a humanitarian convoy,” Adm. Kirby said. “We view that as an excuse to act to cross the border in an unauthorized way.”

Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head U.S. European Command Gen. Philip Breedlove was quick to condemn Russia’s actions on Friday, describing them as a “illegal incursion into the sovereign territory of Ukraine.”

“This convoy’s flagrant disregard for international norms and practices is cause for grave concern regarding Russia’s true motives in sending supplies across the border,” he said. “A forced crossing without authorization or escort indicates that Russia is more interested in resupplying separatists rather than supporting local populations.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that it would not escort the Russian convoy to Lugansk “due to the volatile security situation” in the eastern region of the country.

Over the past few weeks, Ukraine security forces have been clashing with pro-Russian supporters. The uptick in violence in and around Lugansk and Donetsk is the reason for why the convoy has been delayed.

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed frustration with that delay, describing it as “endless” and “intolerable.”

The ministry accused Ukraine of purposely stepping up attacks in residential areas and other civilian facilities, which has involved military aircraft, heavy-duty armored vehicles. Ukraine has been launching ballistic missiles more frequently, according to the ministry.

“It seems increasingly credible that the incumbent Ukrainian leadership is deliberately delaying the delivery of the humanitarian relief aid until there is nobody left to deliver this aid to,” the ministry stated. “Quite possibly, they hope to achieve this result prior to the planned 26 August meetings in Minsk.”

On Aug. 26, Russian and Ukrainian leadership are expected to meet with European Union officials in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, according to European Media Network EurActiv.

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