#West condemns #Russia over convoy to #Ukraine


The first trucks of the convoy roll on the main road to Luhansk near the village of Uralo-Kavkaz, after it passed the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev's approval, after more than a week's delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)The first trucks of the convoy roll on the main road to Luhansk near the village of Uralo-Kavkaz, after it passed the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev’s approval, after more than a week’s delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

LUHANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalated sharply on Friday as Moscow sent more than 130 trucks rolling across the border in what it said was a mission to deliver ‘humanitarian aid’. Ukraine called it a “direct invasion,” and the U.S. and NATO condemned it as well.

In another ominous turn in the crisis, NATO said it has mounting evidence that Russian forces are operating inside Ukraine and launching artillery attacks from Ukrainian soil.

The trucks, part of a convoy of 260 vehicles, entered Ukraine without government permission after being held up at the border for a week amid fears that the mission was a Kremlin ploy to help the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

By late afternoon, trucks had reached the city of Luhansk, whose war-reduced population of a quarter-million people has suffered under intense fighting over the past several weeks between Ukrainian forces and the separatists.

Russia said the white-tarped vehicles were carrying food, water, generators and sleeping bags.

Some of the trucks were opened to reporters a few days ago, and at least some of those items could be seen. But Associated Press journalists following the convoy across rough country roads heard the trucks’ contents rattling and sliding around Friday, suggesting many vehicles were only partially loaded.

The arrival of the trucks instantly raised the stakes in the crisis: An attack on the convoy could give Russia a pretext to intervene more deeply in the fighting. And the convoy’s mere presence could block further battlefield advances by Ukrainian forces, which have reported substantial inroads against the rebels over the past week.

In sending in the convoy, Russia said it had lost patience with Ukraine’s stalling tactics and claimed that soon “there will no longer be anyone left to help” in Luhansk, where weeks of heavy shelling have cut off power, water and phone service and made food scarce.

At the United Nations in New York, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin hotly denied any Russian troops were inside Ukraine. Russia has also steadfastly denied supporting and arming the rebels, as the West has charged.

Moscow’s decision to move unilaterally, without Red Cross involvement, raised questions about its intentions.

Suspicions were running high that the humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at halting Kiev’s momentum on the battlefield.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk declared that the trucks were half-empty and were not going to deliver aid but would instead be used to create a provocation. He said Russia would somehow attack the convoy itself, creating an international incident.

A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev's approval, after more than a week's delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)A Russian border guard opens a gate into the Ukraine for the first trucks heading into the country from the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev’s approval, after more than a week’s delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow.(AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Ukrainian security services chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko called the convoy a “direct invasion” and said the half-empty trucks would be used to transport weapons to rebels and spirit away the bodies of Russian fighters killed in eastern Ukraine. He said the men operating the trucks were Russian military personnel trained to drive combat vehicles, tanks and artillery.

Nalyvaichenko insisted, however, that Ukraine would not shell the convoy.

NATO’s secretary-general condemned Russia for sending in a “so-called humanitarian convoy” Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia committed “a blatant breach” of its international commitments and “a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

The Pentagon demanded Russia withdraw the convoy immediately, warning: “Failure to do so will result in additional costs and isolation.”

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said that, since mid-August, the military alliance has seen multiple reports of direct involvement of Russian forces in Ukraine, along with transfers of tanks and other heavy weapons to the separatists, and “an alarming build-up of Russian ground and air forces in the vicinity of Ukraine.”

“Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” she said. Previously, the West accused Russia of cross-border shelling.

The Red Cross, which had planned to escort the convoy to assuage fears that it was a cover for a Russian invasion, said it had not received enough security guarantees to do so, as shelling had continued overnight. Four troops were killed and 23 wounded in a 24-hour period in eastern Ukraine, the government reported Friday.

The government said it had authorized the entry of only 35 trucks. But the number of Russian vehicles seen passing through was clearly way beyond that. International monitors said that as of midday, 134 trucks, 12 support vehicles and one ambulance had crossed into Ukraine.

In announcing its decision to act, the Russian Foreign Ministry said: “There is increasingly a sense that the Ukrainian leaders are deliberately dragging out the delivery of the humanitarian load until there is a situation in which there will no longer be anyone left to help.”

Ukrainian people greet the first truck as it passes the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev's approval, after more than a week's delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)Ukrainian people greet the first truck as it passes the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks in a Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, seemingly without Kiev’s approval, after more than a week’s delay amid suspicions the mission was being used as a cover for an invasion by Moscow. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

It added: “We are warning against any attempts to thwart this purely humanitarian mission.”

Rebel forces took advantage of Ukraine’s promise not to shell the convoy to drive on the same country road as the trucks. Some 20 green military supply vehicles — flatbed trucks and fuel tankers — were seen traveling in the opposite direction, along with smaller rebel vehicles.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It has killed over 2,000 people and forced 340,000 to flee, according to the United Nations.

On Friday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said the country’s honorary consul in Luhansk had been abducted and killed by “terrorists.” There were no further details.

(Laura Mills in Moscow, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Kiev, Ukraine, Peter Leonard in Donetsk, Ukraine, and Alexander Roslyakov in Donetsk, Russia, contributed to this report).


Associated Press.

#EU and #NATO leaders condemn #Russia’s aid convoy entering #Ukraine


by Ian Bateson.
A local resident holds a Russian national flag as lorries, part of a Russian humanitarian convoy cross the Ukrainian border at the Izvarino custom control checkpoint, on Aug. 22, 2014. © AFPA local resident holds a Russian national flag as lorries, part of a Russian humanitarian convoy cross the Ukrainian border at the Izvarino custom control checkpoint, on Aug. 22, 2014. © AFP

Hours after a convoy of Russian military trucks crossed the border without approval from Ukrainian authorities, the move was slammed by key international organizations.

Leaders have criticized the breach in international law and called for Russia to halt the movement of the convoy, which is allegedly carrying humanitarian aid.

“This is a blatant breach of Russia’s international commitments, including those made recently in Berlin and Geneva, and a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “Instead of de-escalating the situation, Russia continues to escalate it.”

Rasmussen’s statement, however, fell short of calling the sending of the convoy into Ukraine an act of aggression, which would imply a military response.

The European Union has also begun to criticize the move while praising Ukraine for showing restraint in its own response.

“The EU deplores Russia’s decision to enter humanitarian consignment into Ukrainian territory without an ICRC escort or consent of the Ukrainian government,” said European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton via her spokesperson on Twitter.

Neither announcement contained a call for further action against Russia or aid for Ukraine.

By mid-afternoon Andrew Roth of the New York Times, reporting from the border crossing in Izvaryne, said via Twitter that all of the convoy trucks had crossed over from Russia into Ukraine.

Photos and video circulating on social media later showed the convoy splitting up and arriving in the separatist held cities of Krasnodon and Luhansk.

Follow Ian Bateson on Twitter @ianbateson


Kyiv Post.

‘Spider-man’ from #Kyiv confesses to putting up #Ukrainian #flag in #Moscow


By Olga Rudenko.Ukrainian extreme adventurist Grygoriy takes a selfie as he apears to stand on a top of a building in Moscow, purportedly on Aug. 20, when a Ukrainian flag was placed on top, triggering a scandal amid Russia's war against Ukraine. © www.facebook.com/mustang.wanted.25Ukrainian extreme adventurist Grygoriy takes a selfie as he appears to stand on a top of a building in Moscow, purportedly on Aug. 20, when a Ukrainian flag was placed on top, triggering a scandal amid Russia’s war against Ukraine. © www.facebook.com/mustang.wanted.25

Ukrainian extreme adventurer and risk-taker Grygoriy, who goes under pseudonym Mustang Wanted, is claiming that he put the Ukrainian flag on top of a building in Moscow on Aug. 20. He also gave a yellow star on top of the building a coat of blue paint as a finishing touch of Ukrainian colors.

Grygoriy, 26, says it was “a sincere patriotic feeling” that made him do it.

Read Grygoriy’s profile by Kyiv Post from June 2013.

In a statement he put on his Facebook page, Grygoriy, who never shares his last name, says he decided to come clean for the sake of the four Russians who were detained on suspicion of putting up the flag.

“I have to make this confession in attempt to free the innocent citizens of Russia who have all the chances to become victims of Russian justice, widely known for its impartiality,” reads the post on Mustang Wanted page on Facebook.

At 7 a.m. on Aug. 20, a Ukrainian flag was spotted on a top of the apartment building known as Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, a trademark Stalinist skyscraper. Half of a yellow Soviet star under the flag was painted blue to resemble the colors of the flag.

The flag was removed three hours later, and the star was repainted the same day. Later in the day, four young Russians, two men and two women were detained as suspects. The judge qualified the case as hooliganism, punished by up to seven years of prison.

The suspects were seen making parachute jumps from the building that morning, but claimed it was a coincidence and said they never saw who put up the flag.

In his confession post, Grygoriy writes he spent most of the night painting the star and installing the flag, and was done by 6 a.m.

“I never saw the detained Russians there and I must say I don’t even know them,” he writes.

Grygoriy is known for his passion for climbing high buildings. He is often photographed hanging from 100-meter high buildings on one hand and making other stunts.

After confessing, he wrote that he agrees to put himself in the hands of Russian justice in exchange of Nadezhda Savchenko’s liberation. Savchenko, a Ukrainian military pilot, was taken captive by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east in June and has been kept in prison in Russian city of Voronezh ever since.

(Kyiv Post editor Olga Rudenko can be reached at rudenko@kyivpost.com).


Kyiv Post.

Russian convoy crosses border into Ukraine without permission


At least 70 trucks from controversial convoy make way toward embattled city of Luhansk without Red Cross observers.

 in Moscow.A Russian aid convoy truck crosses the Ukrainian border at Izvarino checkpoint. Photograph: Rogulin Dmitry/ Rogulin Dmitry/ITAR-TASS Photo/CorbisA Russian aid convoy truck crosses the Ukrainian border at Izvarino checkpoint. Photograph: Rogulin Dmitry/ Rogulin Dmitry/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

At least 70 trucks from a controversial Russian aid convoy have entered Ukraine against Kiev’s wishes and begun making their way toward the embattled city of Luhansk, further escalating tensions between the two countries.

After a statement by Russia’s foreign ministry saying it could “not wait any longer” on the convoy of about 260 trucks, which has been stuck at the border for more than a week, the vehicles passed through a Ukrainian border post controlled by pro-Russian fighters. Rebels in cars escorted the convoy, which moved ahead without observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The head of Ukraine’s security service, Valentin Nalyvaichenko, described the crossing of the boarder as a “direct invasion” but ruled out Ukrainian troops using force against the convoy. Nalyvaichenko argued that the convoy’s drivers were Russian military forces trained to drive combat vehicles and said the half-empty trucks would be used to move weapons and bring the bodies of Russian fighters out of Ukraine. The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, has previously said he would consider it an act of aggression if the trucks entered without being inspected.

Western leaders fear the convoy could serve as a pretext for direct Russian intervention in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels, which has been raging for the past four months in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, suspicions Moscow has dismissed.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said on Friday that another 30 trucks had driven up to the border crossing at Donetsk-Izvarino to be checked by customs, while Ukraine’s military said 90 trucks that had not been checked by either side were moving toward the border. Ukraine’s border service later said 145 trucks had crossed the border.

The Russian customs service said it was prepared to inspect all the trucks in the convoy by the end of Friday.

In a combative statement, Russia’s foreign ministry accused Kiev of “deliberately dragging out the delivery of the humanitarian aid” so it could complete a “military cleansing of Luhansk and Donetsk” by independence day celebrations on Sunday and before Poroshenko and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, meet in Minsk on Tuesday.

“It’s impossible to suffer such an outrage, open lies and inability to negotiate any longer … Our column with humanitarian aid is starting to move toward Luhansk,” the statement said.

“We warn against any attempts to disrupt this strictly humanitarian mission, which was prepared some time ago amid complete transparency and cooperation with the Ukrainian side and the ICRC,” the statement added. “The responsibility for the possible consequences of provocations against the humanitarian convoy lie entirely on those who are ready to continue sacrificing human lives for their own ambitions and geopolitical plans, rudely trampling the norms and principles of international humanitarian law.”

Ukraine’s national security council said it had proposed negotiations between Ukraine and Russia’s general staffs, but that the Russian side had turned the offer down. National security council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the “responsibility for the safe movement of the column through territory in the Donbass not controlled by the Ukrainian authorities lies on Russia.”

Street fighting and shelling in Luhansk has left tens of thousands of civilians without water, electricity or communications for more than two weeks. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who Kiev and Moscow have agreed would oversee the aid delivery to the city, were not accompanying the convoy on Friday. The convoy had reportedly been held up because the ICRC was waiting for safety guarantees from both sides in the conflict.

ICRC spokeswoman Anastasia Isyuk told the Guardian that 34 trucks had been checked by Russian and Ukrainian officials on Thursday but ICRC representatives did not accompany the convoy on Friday.

“Because of the volatile security situation, with heavy shelling continuing through the night in Luhansk, we do not believe we have received sufficient security guarantees from the fighting parties to allow us to escort the convoy at this time,” Isyuk said: “The convoy of Russian aid is now moving. However, we are not part of that convoy in any way.”

But the Russian Red Cross was “ready to take part in escorting the convoy” and was waiting for a response from the ICRC, its director Raisa Lukuttsova told Interfax news agency.

The Ukrainian border service said in a statement its group of customs and border patrol officials had been “barricaded in the Russian border crossing at Donetsk.” Lysenko told reporters that Kiev was waiting for information from the foreign ministry and Red Cross before deciding whether to stop the convoy from moving further.

Dmitry Tymchuk, a defence analyst with close links to the Kiev government, said Moscow was “openly continuing its provocation under the guise of humanitarian aid for the residents of Donbass,” referring to the historical name for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Government forces have claimed tactical victories in fighting around these two rebel strongholds in recent weeks but have yet to capture them. Rebels shot down a Ukrainian Mi-24 helicopter in Luhansk region on Wednesday but Kiev did not immediately release this information so as not to disrupt the search for it, Lysenko said on Friday.


The Guardian.

#Rebels Falter, but #Russian #Border Buzzes With #Military Activity


Ukrainian soldiers detaining a pro-Russian fighter in the village of Chornukhine. Russia is accused of sending arms and fighters across the border into Ukraine.Ukrainian soldiers detaining a pro-Russian fighter in the village of Chornukhine. Russia is accused of sending arms and fighters across the border into Ukraine. Oleksandr Ratushniak/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DONETSK, Russia — They arrive every day, carloads of young men and women in camouflage who pass through this Russian border checkpoint before heading for the battlefields of eastern Ukraine.

Although patches sewn into their uniforms identify them as separatists, their passports are routinely stamped by Russian officials. After passing by a monitoring station from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a Ukrainian border post now operated by the separatists, they disappear into Ukraine’s civil war.

The rebel war effort may be flagging, but the Russian border in the region still controlled by the separatists remains a hive of military activity.

Almost nightly, convoys of tanks and other military vehicles can be seen on local roads, lumbering west toward Ukraine after dark, turning off dirt roads within miles of the border, apparently following routes previously favored by smugglers sneaking cheap gasoline into Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West have expressed concern about the military buildup on Russia’s border, and have accused Moscow of supplying a steady stream of armor, weapons and fighters to the rebel forces.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has repeatedly denied any Russian role in backing the rebels, while insisting that what goes on within Russia’s borders is its own business.

But the activity and the overt presence of separatists in Russian border towns like Donetsk (not to be confused with the much larger Donetsk, Ukraine), which are closely watched by the Russian border guard service, are evidence that the rebels’ activities are at the very least tolerated.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring stations were established last month at the border crossings in Donetsk and Gukovo, at the behest of Mr. Putin, to allay fears about the porous border. Paul Picard, the chief observer here, said the mission regularly sees young men in camouflage clothing crossing the border, but so far none of the monitors have seen weapons or armor.

The border between Russia and Ukraine is vast and, for long stretches, virtually unguarded, leaving ample space for surreptitious movements of weapons and vehicles that Moscow has been accused by NATO and the Ukrainian government of organizing.

A Russian soldier walks on the top of a tank, some 10 km outside the southern-Russian city of Donetsk, on Aug. 18, 2014. © AFPA Russian soldier walks on the top of a tank, some 10 km outside the southern-Russian city of Donetsk, on Aug. 18, 2014. © AFP

So sensitive has the issue become that when two British journalists reported last week that 23 armored vehicles had crossed through a small hole in a border fence in Donetsk, the Russian security service, the F.S.B., issued a rare denial.

Patrol units have been created because of shelling near the border, the agency said, “But they act exclusively on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

The human traffic across the border has been much harder to ignore, however.

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a rebel commander and prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said last week that 1,200 new fighters who had trained in Russia and 150 new tanks and armored vehicles had recently arrived in eastern Ukraine. He offered no evidence of such an influx, and his statement could not be independently verified.

The conflict has so far left more than 2,086 dead and 5,000 wounded, the United Nations announced recently. As the casualties have mounted, so has the traffic of wounded fighters out of Ukraine, and hundreds have been evacuated through border points like the one in Donetsk to government hospitals throughout the Rostov region.

Ukraine Crisis in Maps >

In many hospitals, like the Central City Hospital here, rebel fighters outnumber civilians from Ukraine.

Yuri, 52 — who, like others interviewed for this article, did not want to be identified by last name as a rebel fighter — worked for almost 30 years as a rescue worker in coal mines in the Luhansk region before enlisting with the rebels.

His military career ended in early July when shrapnel from a mortar round narrowly missed his spinal cord. His left arm was amputated at the shoulder, along with his left foot. About a month ago, he was whisked across the border along with several other fighters.

“Of the second platoon, only five people are left,” he said, speaking of heavy casualties among the rebels. “From the third platoon, my platoon, maybe 10 of those who began are left.”

According to Lilia Nikolaevna, a nurse at the hospital, 10 to 20 wounded rebels are brought across the checkpoint to the hospital each day.

When 40 wounded separatist fighters arrived at the main city hospital on three buses bearing Ukrainian license plates on Sunday, officers from the Federal Security Services, hospital staff and Emergency Ministries staff were all waiting.

A dozen F.S.B. agents questioned the men before they were admitted to the hospital or transported elsewhere.

In a hospital in the city of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, about 40 miles from the border, a 52-year-old machinist named Oleg sat in his hospital bed. His left leg had been amputated in Ukraine.

“In moments like this, yes, I feel Russia’s support,” he said, as he flicked the ash from a cigarette into an empty coffee container. All of his operations had been paid for, he said. “I understand that Putin can only help us so much, at least openly. It’s politics, after all.”


The New York Times.

Publishing The Facts, Not Fiction.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 801 other followers

%d bloggers like this: