URALO-KAVKAZ, Ukraine (AP) — Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday without Kiev's approval, saying its patience had worn out with the Ukrainian government's stalling tactics. Ukraine called the move a "direct invasion."
The white-tarped semis carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags sent from Moscow are intended for civilians in the city of Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatists are besieged by government forces. Shelling of the city has been ongoing for weeks, cutting off power, water and phone lines and leaving food supplies scarce.
In the past few days, Ukraine says its troops have recaptured significant parts of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city, and suspicions are running high that Moscow's humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at halting Kiev's military momentum. Fierce fighting has been reported both around Luhansk and the largest rebel-held city, Donetsk, with dozens of casualties.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had planned to escort the Russian aid convoy to assuage fears that it was being used as a cover for a Russian invasion, said it had not received enough security guarantees to do so.
Ukrainian Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko told reporters in Kiev on Friday that the Russia move was a "direct invasion" which "happened for the first time under the cover of the Red Cross."
Nalyvaichenko insisted the men driving the aid trucks were Russian military forces trained to drive combat vehicles and said the half-empty trucks will be used to transport weapons to the rebels and take away the bodies of Russian fighters from eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine had authorized the entrance of a few dozen trucks, but the number of Russian vehicles entering the country through a rebel-held border point was clearly substantially more than the agreed-upon amount. Ukraine has accused Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, a charge Russia denies.