Russian aid convoy heads for eastern Ukraine amid fears of military intervention

Moscow: An enormous Russian convoy of about 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid has left Moscow for south-eastern Ukraine, Russian television and news agencies reported on Tuesday.

Television reports showed a long line of tractor-trailers stretched along a road. A Russian Orthodox priest was shown sprinkling the trucks with holy water before their departure. Many of the vehicles were draped in huge banners reading “humanitarian aid” in Russian, along with the double-headed eagle of Russia and its white, blue and red flag.

NTV, a Russian state channel, quoted drivers as saying that it would take a few days for the entire column to reach the intended crossing point on the Russian-Ukrainian border, which is roughly 965 kilometres south of Moscow.

The Russian government began a concerted effort to get the convoy accepted on Monday, setting off alarm bells in the West despite the Kremlin’s insistence that it was co-ordinating its efforts with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has estimated that there is a “high probability” that Russia will intervene militarily in Ukraine, and Ukraine has announced that even more Russian troops than previously thought are massed along the border.

But Russian officials repeatedly insisted that the convoy was to provide relief, particularly to the besieged, separatist-held city of Luhansk, where residents have been without water and electricity for days.

In Kiev, the former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, who has served as a mediator between the government and the rebels, said the aid would be distributed to hospitals, kindergartens, orphanages and other people in need. “The militants must not receive one gram,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency Interfax.

The Russian aid convoy would cross into Ukraine near Kharkiv, he said, and would then drive to Luhansk. Along with the Red Cross, representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has also been part of the mediation effort, would accompany the convoy to Luhansk, Kuchma said.

Full article: Russian aid convoy heads for eastern Ukraine amid fears of military intervention (The Age)

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