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25th Feb 2017

Uncertainty surrounds Russian 'aid' convoy to Ukraine

  • The Red Cross at work in Syria (Photo: icrc.org)

The Red Cross says it has no agreement to govern what will happen when Russian “aid” trucks arrive at Ukraine’s border.

Andre Loersch, the Kiev-based spokesman for the Geneva-based relief body, told EUobserver on Tuesday (12 August) that “it was a surprise to us” when Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that he is sending the humanitarian assistance convoy to Ukraine.

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“We were waiting for the Russian Federation to hand over a precise and detailed list of the humanitarian materials it intended to provide and we still haven’t got that”, he said.

“We have at this stage no agreement for the hand-over of this humanitarian aid. The only information I have at this stage is from Russian press agencies”.

Russian media reported earlier on Tuesday that 280 trucks had left Moscow for Ukraine carrying 2,000 tonnes of grain, sugar, baby food, medicine, sleeping bags, and electrical generators.

Meanwhile, the office of Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko, who spoke with Red Cross chief Peter Maurer by phone on Monday, said in a statement that a new humanitarian effort will include “assistance provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States, the EU, and Russia”.

It added that the “aid [will] be distributed exclusively among the civilian population of the Lugansk region [in east Ukraine]”.

The Russian convoy comes after a warning by Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen there is a “high probability” that Russia could invade Ukraine under the auspices of an aid mission.

"We see the Russians developing the narrative and the pretext for such an operation under the guise of a humanitarian operation, and we see a military build-up that could be used to conduct such illegal military operations in Ukraine”, he told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

The warning was echoed by US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

“We are concerned that Russia could try to use a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation as a pretence for inserting elements of military force into Ukraine”, she told press in Washington.

For his part, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian military is not involved in the aid effort.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he hopes: “Western partners won’t put a spoke in the wheel and will think about the people who are badly in need of water and electricity”.

The Red Cross’ Loersch told EUobserver its normal modus operandi is to take possession of material donated from various sources, to use its own people and its own vehicles to give it out, to operate with no military escort, and to have full discretion on who gets the supplies.

“We would be handed over the aid. We would check it. We would be handed the material at the border and we would be in charge of distributing it”, he said.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU, Konstantin Yeliseyev, also indicated the Russian convoy will not be allowed to enter his country.

“There will be humanitarian assistance … but this will be conveyed and delivered by Red Cross people”, he told this website on Tuesday.

The UN estimates that some 168,000 people have fled from east Ukraine to Russia over the past three months of fighting, while another 117,000 people have become “internally displaced”.

The Red Cross said on Monday: “The situation is critical - thousands of people are reported to be without access to water, electricity, and medical aid”.

Russia imposes retaliatory sanctions on EU

Moscow is slapping a ban on EU-imported fruit and vegetables and food from the US in retaliation for western economic sanctions. Meanwhile, 20,000 Russian soldiers are stationed on the Ukraine border.

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