Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into rebel-held eastern Ukraine today without Kiev's approval, saying its patience had worn out with the Ukrainian government's stalling tactics. Ukraine called the move a "direct invasion." The move sharply raised the stakes in eastern Ukraine, for any attack on the convoy could draw the Russian military directly into the conflict between the Ukrainian government in Kiev and separatist rebels in the east. Russia says the white-tarped semis said to be carrying food, water, generators, and sleeping bags are intended to help civilians in the city of Luhansk, where government forces are besieging pro-Russian separatists.
In the past few days, Ukraine says its troops have recaptured significant parts of Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city, and suspicions are running high that Moscow's humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at halting Kiev's military momentum. Fierce fighting has been reported this week both around Luhansk and the largest rebel-held city, Donetsk, with dozens of casualties. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had planned to escort the Russian aid convoy to assuage fears that it would be used as a cover for a Russian invasion, said it had not received enough security guarantees to do so today. "This is a direct invasion done under the cover of the Red Cross for the first time ever," said Ukrainian security service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko. "These are military men who have been trained to carry cargo, trained to drive combat vehicles, tanks and artillery."