The Russian aid convoy on Friday finally reached Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, which has been devastated by repeated shelling. White Kamaz trucks delivered essentials such as food, water, medications, sleeping bags, and electric generators.
Moscow has accused Kiev of placing political interests above humanitarian concerns, adding that it is confident it made the right decision to order a convoy with Russian humanitarian aid to proceed to the conflict zone without waiting for further Ukrainian permission. Twenty-four aid distribution centers have been set up in the city, 12 of which will open on Saturday morning, according to the administration of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Lugansk. “Pensioners, families where both parents work in the public sector, refugees who suffered from shelling, the disabled and hospital patients will be the first to receive the aid,” said Oleg Tsaryov, the speaker for the parliament of the Union of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
Part of the Russian humanitarian aid may be sent to the neighboring Donetsk region, which has also been heavily hit by the ongoing violence. The Russian convoy to Ukraine left Moscow on August 12, and then got stuck at the Ukrainian border for a week as Kiev postponed its final approval for the trucks loaded with humanitarian cargo to cross into the country for various reasons. Over this period, the Russian side made “unprecedented efforts in all areas and at all levels” in order to complete the required formalities, and met all of Kiev’s “conceivable and inconceivable” demands, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement. “Time and again, we met requests to check and recheck the shipment route, to coordinate procedures for the shipment’s delivery, and have signed the required documents with the ICRC,” it read.
On Friday, Moscow accused Kiev of deliberately delaying the aid delivery and ordered its convoy to start moving towards Lugansk. “It is no longer possible to tolerate this lawlessness, outright lies and inability to reach agreements,” the foreign ministry said. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – which under the initial plan was to escort the convoy – could not comply due to security concerns. “That’s because of the problems with security,” Galina Balzamova of the ICRC told RT. “Lugansk was shelled all night long. We believe we did not get sufficient guarantees of safety from all the parties to the conflict to start escorting the convoy.” The head of the Russian Red Cross, Raisa Lukutsova, said the organization supported the decision to get the humanitarian convoy moving.
“The fact that the humanitarian mission has started – this has probably been the right decision,” Lukutsova said. “For how long do we have to put up with this mockery? They put forward one demand after another. All of them unrealistic.” ICRC confirmed that people in areas affected by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine are in “urgent need for essentials like food and medical supplies.” The humanitarian crisis is particularly acute in Lugansk, where people have gone for weeks without water and electricity and have to queue every day for whatever scarce food supplies are brought to the city. But Moscow’s move has triggered an outcry in Kiev. “We call it a direct invasion,” Ukraine’s intelligence (SBU) chief, Valentyn Nalivaychenko told journalists. “Under the cynical cover of the Red Cross these are military vehicles with documents to cover them up.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of “smuggling humanitarian aid to Ukraine” and said it had to allow the convoy to pass. “To avoid provocations we have given all the necessary orders to let the convoy pass safely,” the ministry’s statement said. Russia, in response to criticism by Kiev officials, stressed it has always acted within the framework of international law. “We are acting in full compliance with the norms of international humanitarian law. We can no longer and will not accept the distress of residents living in the southeastern Ukraine,” said Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister. Kiev authorities were “making up” countless bureaucratic hurdles, “the crossing of which appeared to be more difficult than for our trucks to travel down the road damaged by Ukrainian shelling,” the official added.
In Moscow’s view, Kiev authorities attempted to buy time and finish the military operation oppressing “their own people” in the area “where Russian humanitarian aid is being distributed.” However, Ryabkov added, they failed to do so. “We are confident that we are right. And we accuse Kiev and countries that support it that over and over again they have been placing their political – as a matter of fact anti-Russian – interests above established norms of humanism and compassion,” Ryabkov said. “Kiev insinuations” would be followed by “similarly hypocritical” lecturing from other capitals, the diplomat observed. And that appeared to be exactly the scenario. Kiev’s stance was first echoed by the EU, who labeled Moscow’s decision to order the convoy to go ahead without Kiev’s consent “a clear violation of the Ukrainian border.”
The US accused Russia of “a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and called on Moscow to withdraw its convoy. “Russia must remove its vehicles and its personnel from the territory of Ukraine immediately. Failure to do so will result in additional costs and isolation,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, told a briefing, Reuters reported. NATO has also joined the chorus of condemnation, with the alliance’s chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, saying in a statement that Moscow’s move “can only deepen the crisis in the region, which Russia itself has created and has continued to fuel.”
Russia’s envoy to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said such comments by the bloc’s chief can lead only to one conclusion: they are “completely indifferent” to the humanitarian disaster in east Ukraine and are “not interested” in the earliest settlement to the crisis. “On the contrary, despite everything, indulgence to Kiev’s criminal suppression of its own people continues,” he told Itar-Tass.
Ukraine agreed to let the convoy pass during an August 20 phone call between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers. That conversation gave a start to customs procedures for checking and registering the contents of the trucks comprising the convoy. The next day the process was halted by Ukraine, citing intensified shelling of Lugansk.
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT ON THE START OF THE DELIVERY OF HUMANITARIAN RELIEF AID TO SOUTHEASTERN UKRAINE
The endless delays hampering the initial deliveries of the Russian humanitarian relief aid to southeastern Ukraine have become intolerable.
A lorry convoy with many hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian relief aid, urgently needed by the people in these regions, has been standing idle for a week now on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Over this period, the Russian side has made unprecedented efforts in all areas and at all levels in order to complete the required formalities. We have met all conceivable and inconceivable demands of the Ukrainian side and have submitted to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) exhaustive lists of food, drinking water, medications, essential items and diesel generators due to be delivered to Lugansk, where they are urgently needed by women, children and the elderly. These people are experiencing the horrors of daily artillery attacks and air strikes that have resulted in an increasing number of killed and wounded and destroyed the entire vital infrastructure in the area. Time and again, we met requests to check and recheck the shipment route, to coordinate procedures for the shipment’s delivery, and have signed the required documents with the ICRC. We have provided all essential security guarantees and have ensured similar guarantees on the part of the self-defense forces. These guarantees apply to the Russian convoy as well as other humanitarian relief aid being sent to Lugansk by the Kiev authorities.
At the same time, Kiev has delayed granting its formal consent required by the ICRC for several days, while repeatedly inventing new pretexts and stepping up attacks on Lugansk and Donetsk that involve military aircraft and heavy-duty armored vehicles, targeting residential areas and other civilian facilities. Over the past few days, the Ukrainian side has been launching ballistic missiles, including the deadly Tochka-U missiles, ever more frequently.
On 21 August, the situation appeared to have been resolved when the Ukrainian authorities finally informed the ICRC of their readiness to start clearing humanitarian shipments for prompt delivery to Lugansk. The Ukrainian side officially confirmed its unconditional consent for the convoy to start moving during a phone conversation between the Foreign Affairs Ministers of Russia and Ukraine. On 20 August, customs clearance and border control procedures were launched at the Donetsk checkpoint. On 21 August, however, this process was stopped, with officials citing much more intensive bombardment of Lugansk. In other words, the Ukrainian authorities are bombing the destination and are using this as a pretext to stop the delivery of humanitarian relief aid.
It appears that Kiev has set out to complete its “cleansing” of Lugansk and Donetsk in time for the 24 August Independence Day celebrations. It seems increasingly credible that the incumbent Ukrainian leadership is deliberately delaying the delivery of the humanitarian relief aid until there is nobody left to deliver this aid to. Quite possibly, they hope to achieve this result prior to the planned 26 August meetings in Minsk.
Russia is outraged by the blatant external manipulation of the international experts involved in preparing this operation. An endless succession of contradictory and mutually exclusive signals and messages we have been receiving is a true indication of behind the scenes games for purposes that have nothing to do with accomplishing a set humanitarian objective. Those who are holding the reins and hampering efforts to save human lives, to mitigate the suffering of sick and wounded people neglect the basic principles of society. We have called on the UN Security Council to promptly declare a humanitarian armistice, but these proposals are being invariably blocked by those who pay lip service to universal human values. Last time, this happened on 20 August, when the United States and some Western members of the UNSC declined to issue a statement in support of a ceasefire during the delivery of humanitarian relief aid to Lugansk by Russian and Ukrainian convoys.
We hereby state once again: All the required security guarantees regarding the passage of the humanitarian convoy have been provided. The ICRC has officially recognised these guarantees. The delivery routes are known, and they have been checked by an ICRC mission. The documents have been drawn up. The shipments have long been ready for inspection by Ukrainian border guards and customs officers who have been waiting at the Donetsk checkpoint in the Rostov Region for a week now. The capitals that display heightened concern for the situation in southeastern Ukraine are well aware of this. The endless artificial demands and pretexts have become unconscionable.
It is no longer possible to tolerate this lawlessness, outright lies and inability to reach agreements. All pretexts for delaying the delivery of aid to people in the humanitarian disaster zone have been depleted. The Russian side has decided to act. Our humanitarian relief convoy is setting out towards Lugansk. Naturally, we are ready to allow ICRC officials to escort the convoy and to take part in distributing aid. We hope that representatives of the Russian Red Cross Society will also be able to take part in this mission.
We are warning against any attempts to thwart this purely humanitarian mission which took a long time to prepare in conditions of complete transparency and cooperation with the Ukrainian side and the ICRC. Those who are ready to continue sacrificing human lives to their own ambitions and geopolitical designs and who are rudely trampling on the norms and principles of international humanitarian law will assume complete responsibility for the possible consequences of provocations against the humanitarian relief convoy.
We are once again calling on the Ukrainian leadership, as well as the United States and the European Union, which are exerting their influence on Kiev, to promptly launch negotiations in southeastern Ukraine and start complying with the accords formalised in the 17 April 2014 Geneva Statement by Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the EU on stopping the use of force, mitigating the humanitarian situation and immediately launching nationwide dialogue that would involve all Ukrainian regions.