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Russian 'ploy' averted, says Ukraine

Ukraine says diplomacy has stopped a bid by Russia to send a "huge convoy" across the border disguised as a humanitarian mission. Rebels and Ukrainian troops have clashed again near Luhansk.

Ukraine and the US claimed late on Friday that Russia had tried to send troops via a "humanitarian corridor" to intervene in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces remain locked in deadly battle.

The deputy head of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office, Valeriy Chaliy, said the move was averted through diplomatic channels.

"Supposedly in consultation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine, the humanitarian convoy with 'peacekeepers' was meant to enter apparently in order to provoke a full-scale conflict," Chaliy said.

Red Cross issues denial

Red Cross spokeswoman Sitara Jabee on Saturday denied involvement in a Russian convoy, saying if supplies were received from Russia they would be distributed "according to our own modalities and methodology."

At the United Nations in New York, US ambassador Samantha Power had said a Russian intervention "under the guise of providing humanitarian aid" would be viewed as an "invasion of Ukraine." International aid agencies were already present, she said.

The West has long warned of a Russian buildup of troops along Ukraine's eastern border and accused Moscow of supplying insurgents, with NATO warning Moscow on Friday to "pull back from the brink."

Chaliy said Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who assured him that Russian attempts at the border "will be stopped."

Russia's ambassador at the UN Vitaly Churkin demanded an immediate end to the Kyiv government's military actions in eastern Ukraine.

Churkin said a

UN report

had failed to condemn Ukraine's use of heavy weapons to destroy residential areas and infrastructure, especially around eastern Ukraine's main cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Heavy fighting around Luhansk

On Friday, Ukraine's military said it had reclaimed two more villages from insurgents in its bid to cut off Donetsk from the Russian border while fighting heavy battles around Luhansk.

Thirteen Ukrainian security personnel had been killed within 24 hours, Kyiv said. Russian news agencies quoted Luhansk's city administration as saying that residents were without water and electricity.

Donetsk city administration official Maxim Rovninsky said 30 apartment blocks came under fire during the night hours of Friday into Saturday. At least one person was killed, he said.

Ukraine's four-month conflict has claimed more than 1,300 lives and forced more than 285,000 people to flee their homes (young refugee pictured above).

Russia considers price controls

Russia's agricultural ministry said late on Friday it was considering price controls to deter speculative rises, after Moscow's decision on Thursday to ban products such as meat and fruit from the EU and other nations in retaliation for Western sanctions.

These were recently imposed on Russia in the wake of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine, with the loss of 298 lives.

The West accuses Russia of arming the separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are alleged to have shot down the jet. The rebels in turn blamed Ukraine's military.

ipj/nm (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)

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