Russia sends aid convoy to Ukraine despite 'invasion pretext' warnings from west
President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is sending an aid convoy to eastern Ukraine despite urgent Western warnings against using humanitarian help as a pretext for an invasion.
With Ukraine reporting Russia has massed 45,000 troops on its border, NATO said there was a "high probability" that Moscow could intervene militarily in the country's east, where Kiev's forces are closing in on pro-Russian separatists.
Western countries believe that Putin - who has whipped up the passions of Russians with a nationalist campaign in state-controlled media since annexing Crimea from Ukraine in March - could now send his forces into the east to head off a humiliating rebel defeat.
Thousands of people are believed to be short of water, electricity and medical aid due to the fighting, but US President Barack Obama told his Ukrainian counterpart that any Russian intervention without Kiev's consent would be unacceptable and violate international law.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso delivered a blunter message directly to Putin in a telephone call today. "President Barroso warned against any unilateral military actions in Ukraine, under any pretext, including humanitarian," the Commission said in a statement.
The Kremlin, in its own account of the conversation, made clear that Moscow would indeed send help to largely Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
"It was noted that the Russian side, in collaboration with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is sending an aid convoy to Ukraine," the Kremlin statement said, without revealing when the convoy was going.
In a cautious response, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it had submitted a document to Russian and Ukrainian officials on delivering aid. However, the independent agency stressed in a statement that it needed agreement from all parties as well as security guarantees to carry out the operation, as it does not use armed escorts.
"The practical details of this operation need to be clarified before this initiative can move forward," said Laurent Corbaz, head of ICRC operations for Europe and Central Asia.
According to U.N. agencies, more than 1,100 people have been killed including government forces, rebels and civilians in the four months since the separatists seized territory in the east and Kiev launched its crackdown.