Russia's top diplomat has announced that Moscow will send a second aid convoy to eastern Ukraine, after Kyiv condemned the first caravan as an "invasion." Meanwhile, clashes have been reported near the Russian border.
Citing the "deteriorating humanitarian situation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that the Kremlin would send a second aid convoy this week to eastern Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russian separatists.
"We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.
Last Friday, Russia sent a humanitarian aid convoy across the border into eastern Ukraine without Kyiv's approval, delivering supplies to the rebel-stronghold of Luhansk. The Ukrainian government labeled Moscow's unilateral move as an "invasion."
Kyiv had expressed concern that the 260-truck convoy would be used to resupply pro-Russian separatists with arms and munitions. Moscow said that the convoy only contained humanitarian aid for civilians who have been caught up in the fighting.
Ukraine and Russia had reached an agreement to allow the first convoy into rebel-controlled areas under the supervision of the Red Cross. But when the convoy was held up for days at the border by Ukrainian inspections, Moscow opted instead to send the trucks in without Kyiv's permission or Red Cross monitors.
At least 2,000 people have died since fighting broke out last April between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. According to the UN refugee agency, some 700,000 have fled the fighting for Russia, while an additional 117,000 have been displaced inside Ukraine.
The director of UN humanitarian operations, John Ging, told the Security Council earlier this month that the situation has deteriorated in eastern Ukraine as access to power and water has become difficult, homes have been destroyed, and health workers have fled the region.
Reported clashes near border
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said that government forces clashed with a rebel armored column near the Russian border on Monday. A military spokesman told the AFP news agency that the armored vehicles had crossed the border from Russia and were heading in the direction of the government-held southeastern city of Mariupol.
The Ukrainian military claimed that border guards halted the advance near the town of Novoazovsk, located on the Azov Sea about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Russian frontier. Foreign Minister Lavrov dismissed the reports as disinformation.
"I haven't heard about it, but there has been more than enough disinformation about our invasion," Lavrov said during his news conference on Monday. "No doubt some foreign newspaper will print that news tomorrow."
slk/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)