Ukraine said it warded off a Russian attempt to send troops across the border under the guise of a humanitarian mission, fuelling Western fears that Moscow is planning to invade.
“A huge convoy moved towards the Ukrainian border, accompanied by Russian troops and military hardware,” Valeriy Chaliy, deputy head of President Petro Poroshenko’s office said on late Friday in a television interview.
“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,” he added.
Chaliy said the move was averted through diplomatic channels, without going into details.
He added that the Red Cross denied that Russia had coordinated this alleged humanitarian column with them.
The West has long warned that Russia’s build-up of troops on the border with eastern Ukraine could see Moscow invade its troubled neighbour.
On Friday, the US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power slammed Russian proposals of setting up humanitarian corridors to aid people in east Ukraine caught up in heavy fighting and often left with no power or water.
A “unilateral intervention by Russia in Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming and would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine,” Power said.
Chaliy said Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov who assured him that the Russian attempts at the border “will be stopped.”
On Saturday, the foreign ministry in Kiev said: “The Ukrainian side has reasonable grounds to believe that the convoy could be used to further escalate tensions.”
It urged Moscow “to refrain from any attempt to transfer humanitarian supplies to Ukraine,” unless agreed to by Kiev.
The West accuses Russia of supplying fighters and weapons to fuel the insurgency in eastern Ukraine.