Russia is planning to send a second humanitarian convoy into eastern Ukraine “in the next few days”, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
Sergei Lavrov said the humanitarian situation there was “deteriorating”.
Ukraine did not authorize the first convoy, which returned to Russia at the weekend, fearing it carried military equipment for pro-Russia separatists.
According to the Ukrainian officials, a column of armored vehicles crossed from Russia on Monday, sparking heavy clashes.
The crossing was reported close to the south-eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
“The Ukrainian border has been breached by a convoy of several dozen tanks and armoured vehicles,” security spokesman Leonid Matyukhin told AFP.
“The convoy has been stopped by border guards… The battle is ongoing.”
More than 2,000 people have died in recent months in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists. Some 330,000 people have been displaced.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has announced a second humanitarian convoy for eastern Ukraine (photo RIA Novosti)
The Russian and Ukrainian presidents are scheduled to meet in Minsk, Belarus, on Tuesday for talks on the crisis.
Sergei Lavrov said he had sent a note to the Ukrainian foreign ministry on Sunday informing it of the new convoy.
He told a news conference on Monday: “The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating.
“We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route… in the coming days.”
Russia said the first convoy had delivered generators, food and drink.
Ukrainian sources said a column of about 30 armored vehicles had entered from Russia close to the port city of Mariupol on Monday, bearing symbols of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic.
Mariupol is in the hands of Ukrainian government forces, who ousted rebels in May.
When asked about a possible Russian incursion, Sergei Lavrov said that “there is enough disinformation”.
Ukraine and Western powers have accused Russia of arming the rebels, charges Moscow has denied.
There have been several previous reports of armored vehicles crossing the Ukrainian border.
Asked about Tuesday’s presidential meeting, Sergei Lavrov said: “We are ready… for any format as long as there is a result.”
He added that Russia wanted “to help Ukrainians agree among themselves”.
Sergei Lavrov also commented on the parading of captured Ukrainian government soldiers by rebels through the centre of Donetsk on Sunday.
Crowds lined the streets chanting “fascists” as the disheveled-looking prisoners walked by.
Sergei Lavrov said this was “nowhere near mistreatment” and that Ukrainian fighters’ actions often amounted to “war crimes”.
“I saw images of that parade and I didn’t see anything close to what could be considered as humiliating,” he said.
The violence in east Ukraine erupted in April when pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence from Kiev. This followed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March.
All Russian trucks from an unauthorized aid convoy have now crossed back over the border from Ukraine.
The convoy returned from the eastern city of Luhansk, which is held by pro-Russian separatists. Kiev and Western officials fear the trucks may have had military equipment to help the rebels.
Russia said they had delivered generators, food and drink.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is to receive a 500 million-euro loan from Germany after Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Kiev.
The money will be used to help rebuild Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure, Angela Merkel said in a joint press conference with President Petro Poroschenko in the Ukrainian capital on August 23.
A further 25 million euros will go toward helping refugees, the German chancellor said.
Four months of fighting in eastern Ukraine have left more than 2,000 people dead. More than 330,000 people have fled their homes.
The violence erupted when pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared independence from Kiev, after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March.
Ukraine accuses Russia of arming the rebels and sending Russian soldiers into eastern Ukraine – a claim denied by the Kremlin.
Chancellor Angela Merkel met President Petro Poroschenko in the Ukrainian capital Kiev (photo EPA)
Prior to her arrival in Kiev, Angela Merkel described the Russian convoy’s movement into Ukrainian territory as a “dangerous escalation”.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said there was no information about what most of the convoy – of more than 200 vehicles – was carrying.
The head of the OSCE mission, Paul Picard, said that only the first 37 trucks had been inspected by the Red Cross before they set off into Russia.
The trucks had already been waiting at the border for a week, while Russia, the Ukrainian government and the Red Cross tried to come to an agreement on their passage.
The Russians said the convoy started moving because it could not wait any longer, owing to the worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, which is held by pro-Russian separatists.
The White House and the Ukrainian government both described the deployment of the convoy as a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
In a phone call, President Barack Obama and Angela Merkel said the conflict had “continued to deteriorate” since a Malaysian airliner was downed last month over rebel-held territory, with the loss of all 298 people on board.
Ukraine called the Russian convoy a “direct invasion” of Ukraine.
NATO and the European Union have also criticized what they said was a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
NATO officials have accused Russia of building up troops on its border, saying significant numbers of Russian forces are operating within Ukraine, using artillery.
The Russian aid convoy has moved across the Ukrainian border, without permission, after Russia accused Ukraine of obstructing it.
Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukraine had held up the convoy in order to pursue war against rebels in Luhansk, where the aid is destined.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was “not part of that convoy in any way”.
Reports suggest the trucks are being escorted by rebel fighters.
“Our humanitarian aid convoy is starting to move towards Luhansk,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
It warned Ukraine not to take any action against the convoy without specifying the consequences.
Ukraine fears that the aid convoy of at least 260 trucks, which arrived at the border more than a week ago, is part of a broader Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies accusations that it arms and trains the rebels in the rebellion in Luhansk and the neighboring region of Donetsk, where four months of fighting have left more than 2,000 people dead and has caused more than 330,000 people to flee their homes.
The Russian aid convoy has moved across the Ukrainian border, without permission (photo Reuters)
The rebel-held city of Luhansk has been without running water, power and phone communications for 20 days as government forces hold it under siege.
As many as 70 trucks have entered Ukrainian territory, moving out of the no-man’s land between the Russian and Ukrainian border posts.
Reporters at the scene saw rebel fighters in front of the convoy as it passed over the border, in a rebel-held sector near the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.
It is normally a drive of about two hours from the trucks’ camp to the city of Luhansk.
However, it is unclear if the convoy will be able to use the motorway there because of continuing combat between rebels and government forces.
An ICRC spokesperson in Moscow said it had concluded that it had not “received the necessary security guarantees from the fighting parties to allow us to escort the convoy at this time”.
It cited “heavy shelling overnight” in Luhansk.
“We understand that the convoy is now moving, however the ICRC is not part of that convoy in any way,” the spokesperson added.
The Russian branch of the ICRC said earlier it was ready to take part in the relief operation and was contacting its international colleagues.
“We are warning against any attempts to sabotage this purely humanitarian mission, which was prepared a long time ago, in an atmosphere of full transparency and in co-operation with the Ukrainian side and the ICRC,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
Delays in Ukrainian clearance for the convoy had “become unbearable”, it said.
“All excuses for blocking the delivery of aid to people in the area where this humanitarian catastrophe is happening have been exhausted,” it added.
“The Russian side has decided to act. Our convoy carrying humanitarian aid is beginning to move towards Luhansk.”
There was no immediate comment on news of the convoy’s entry from the Ukrainian authorities.
Ukrainian media did report, however, that the convoy had not received the go-ahead from Ukraine.
In a statement on its website, Luhansk’s official council reported on August 22 that the dire situation in the city remained unchanged with no halt in the bombardment.
Russian convoy trucks carrying aid to eastern Ukraine have reached a border post controlled by rebels.
The trucks seem unlikely to cross into Ukraine immediately as the Red Cross said it had still not received security guarantees for the convoy to continue.
Earlier Ukraine’s military said that separatists had shot down a government fighter jet near the rebel-held city of Luhansk in the east of the country.
A military spokesman said the pilot had ejected and was safe.
More than 2,000 civilians and combatants have been killed since mid-April, when Ukraine’s government sent troops to put down an uprising by pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
It faced a new challenge on Sunday as the leader of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector threatened to withdraw volunteers fighting on the government side.
Dmytro Yarosh said Right Sector would launch a “campaign in Kiev” if its demands, including the release of detained members, were not met within 48 hours.
Russian convoy trucks carrying aid to eastern Ukraine have reached a border post controlled by rebels
He called on President Petro Poroshenko to “immediately bring order” to the Interior Ministry, which he accused of harboring “revanchist forces”.
The government plane had been shot down after launching an attack “to eliminate a large group of rebels”, Ukrainian military spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said, quoted by AFP news agency.
The pilot ejected from the aircraft safely and rescuers delivered him to a safe location, the spokesman added.
Meanwhile some 16 vehicles from the 280-lorry Russian convoy carrying humanitarian aid for eastern Ukraine were seen arriving at the border.
The Red Cross, quoted by Reuters news agency, said Ukrainian and Russian customs officials had agreed to inspect the lorries.
The Izvaryne crossing where the vehicles have arrived is controlled by rebels, so it is not clear how Ukrainian officials will reach them.
Kiev has insisted that any aid sent to eastern Ukraine from Russia should cross a government-controlled part of the border.
Also, Ukraine’s Security Council tweeted that its border guards had not received any paperwork for the cargo.
The convoy has been parked near the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky for several days after setting out from near Moscow on Tuesday, said to be carrying 2,000 tonnes of aid.
Russian officials quoted by Russia’s Ria news agency said that lorries were being sent out in small groups to avoid causing traffic jams, but there were no plans for any of them to cross the border on Sunday.
The Ukrainian government said late on Saturday that it had declared the convoy “legal”, but Red Cross officials speaking at the time said it had still not been given clearance because of some outstanding security issues.
There had been fears expressed by Ukraine and by Western governments that the convoy could be carrying arms for the rebels or could be used as a pretext by Russia for military action.
Russia has denied any military involvement with the convoy.
At least some of Russian aid convoy’s 280 trucks are stalled in the Voronezh area, some 300 miles from Moscow after Ukrainian officials said they would not let it in.
Other trucks are said to be heading further south.
There have been fears Russia could use the convoy as a pretext for military action in Ukraine.
The UN says the conflict’s death toll has doubled in the past two weeks.
Altogether, at least 2,086 people have been killed since mid-April, when Ukraine sent troops against pro-Russia rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The fighting has displaced almost 300,000 people, many of whom have fled to Russia.
The Russian convoy spent Tuesday night in Voronezh after leaving a military base near Moscow on Tuesday amid fanfare.
At least some of Russian aid convoy’s 280 trucks are stalled in the Voronezh area (photo Reuters)
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said the mission was proceeding in co-operation with the International Committee Red Cross.
The convoy was on the move inside Russia, Dmitry Peskov said, but did not comment on the route.
A Red Cross spokesman told a news conference he did not know the final route for the aid.
“I tried to get information where exactly this convoy is right now before coming here, but I don’t know the exact location still,” said Andre Loersch.
He said the ICRC had received a general description of what is in the trucks. Once it had received a more accurate list, it would be able to start work on how the aid could be transferred and distributed.
Russian TV showed the cargo, including grain, baby food and medicine, bound for civilians trapped by fighting in the area held by pro-Russia rebels.
Ukrainian officials insist that aid should pass through a government-controlled border post and be accompanied by Red Cross officials.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday that Moscow had agreed to these conditions.
“Provocation by a cynical aggressor is not permissible on our territory,” Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his Facebook page.
Ukraine’s PM Arseny Yatsenyuk described the Russian move as “boundless cynicism”.
“First they deliver tanks, Grad [rocket launchers], terrorists and bandits…, and then they deliver water and salt,” Arseny Yatsenyuk said.