Ukraine plans to deny a convoy of Russian trucks access to the country, saying it could be a covert military operation.
The Red Cross – which had originally agreed to broker an aid arrangement for besieged cities in Eastern Ukraine – said Tuesday that they did not know what was in the trucks or where they were headed, raising fears that the 280 trucks might not be filled with humanitarian aid, the Associated Press reports.
A Ukrainian official said they would be willing to agree on a transfer point at a government-controlled border crossing, but that any unauthorized attempt to move the humanitarian aid into Ukraine would be seen as a military attack.
The decision comes a day after NATO said there was a “high probability” that Russia would invade Ukraine, as government forces close in on the separatist-held city of Donetsk. The Ukrainian government claimed Monday that Russia had sharply increased its military presence at the border, including 45,000 troops, thousands of armored vehicles and hundreds of tanks, missile systems, attack helicopters and warplanes.
Russian news organizations reported that the trucks were loaded with 2,000 tons of aid and headed towards eastern Ukraine, where fighting between Russian-supported rebels and Ukrainian forces has left more than 1,300 dead since April.
“This convoy is not a certified convoy. It is not certified by the International Committee of the Red Cross,” a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Lysenko said, according to the Associated Press, showing a covertly-filmed video that depicted similar trucks being packed at a military base.
Ukraine and Russia had previously agreed to aid shipments orchestrated by the Red Cross, but the organization’s spokesman said they had “no information about the content” of the trucks that departed and “it looks like the initiative of the Russian Federation.”
Russia and Ukraine have been at odds since March, when Russia annexed Crimea following protests in Kiev that deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Since then, Russia has been aggravating fighting in eastern Ukraine by aiding pro-Russian separatists with weapons, resources, and training. According to the U.S. State Department, it was Russian weaponry the separatists used to shoot down the passenger jet MH17, killing the nearly 300 civilians on board. The investigation and recovery at the site of the crash is still underway, but fighting has impaired investigators’ abilities.
As the violence has escalated, President Barack Obama announced a series of Western economic sanctions against Russia, prompting President Vladimir Putin to respond by banning certain American and European imports. But a full-scale invasion, like the one Ukraine fears from the aid envoy, would change the game.
President Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend, when news of the possible Trojan horse operation first arose, agreeing that any intervention “even under purported ‘humanitarian’ auspices, without the formal express consent and authorization of the Government of Ukraine is unacceptable, violates international law, and will provoke additional consequences,” a White House readout detailed.