Russian convoy of more than 200 trucks crossed the Ukraine border without permission
Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — A convoy of more than 200 trucks that Russia says is carrying humanitarian aid has crossed the border into Ukraine without permission, a senior Ukrainian Border Service official said Saturday.
Col. Serhiy Astahov, assistant to the Ukrainian Border Service chief, told CNN that 217 trucks have crossed the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian border guards and customs officer did not have access to them to check what they were carrying, he said.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has monitors in Ukraine, said that in total 220 vehicles — 193 cargo trucks and 27 support vehicles — had crossed the border overnight and into the morning.
“The first group of 40 trucks were quickly checked by the Russian border guard and customs services,” an OSCE statement said.
“The 180 other vehicles were not inspected. All vehicles crossed into Ukraine without being inspected by Ukrainian border guard and customs officers or the International Committee of the Red Cross.”
Russian state-run news agency Itar-Tass said the convoy had been cleared by Russian customs control staff, citing the press service of the Russian Southern Customs Department.
The news agency said 250 trucks in total are due to arrive in the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk by the end of Saturday. It reported that the first trucks were greeted by residents waving and even crying.
The city has been severely impacted by months of fighting between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces.
Russian Deputy Emergencies Minister Vladimir Stepanov said the convoy was carrying 2,000 tons of supplies, including food, water purifying equipment and power generators.
A previous convoy sent from Russia last month, also without permission from Ukraine, delivered aid to Luhansk too. Ukrainian authorities raised concerns that it might be used to resupply rebel fighters.
Donetsk airport ‘under fire‘
A fragile ceasefire agreed to just over a week ago is in place in eastern Ukraine.
But Donetsk International Airport came under artillery fire on Saturday morning, the Ukrainian counterterrorism press office told CNN.
This prompted the Ukrainian military to exchange fire with the rebel forces, it said.
National Defense and Security Council spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said in a televised Kiev news briefing that a GRAD missile system was used in the attack on the airport, from three different points in the area.
Donetsk City Council reported that two homes in the area were hit.
Sanctions target Russia
A new round of EU sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine came into effect Friday, targeting six companies and a number of Russian officials and separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine.
This was a day after U.S. President Barack Obama announced that, in coordination with the European Union, “we will intensify our coordinated sanctions on Russia in response to its illegal actions in Ukraine.”
Russia in return accused the United States of once again escalating the crisis — undermining the chances for peace there as well as the greater quest for “global stability.”
Kiev and the West accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of arming and supporting the pro-Russia rebels, and of sending Russian troops into Ukraine.
A NATO military officer said Thursday that Russia has about 1,000 troops inside eastern Ukraine, down from a significantly higher number in recent weeks.
NATO also sees 20,000 more Russian troops aligned along the border, according to the NATO officer, who was not named according to standard practice in the organization.
Yatsenyuk: Values outweigh tanks
Speaking at Ukraine’s biggest annual political forum, the YES Forum, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the latest round of sanctions are “the real threat” to the Russian economy.
“Putin’s idea was to split the unity among EU member states and to split the unity between the U.S. and the EU. And at a certain period of time I was thinking even that he succeed. But no, he failed,” he said.
“Values, EU values, and values of freedom and democracy are much stronger than Russian tanks and artillery and his autocratic regime.”
Yatsenyuk claimed that Putin’s ultimate goal was “not to just take Donetsk and Luhansk, his goal is to take the entire Ukraine.
“He cannot cope with an idea that Ukraine would be a part of the big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union.”
A day earlier, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told the same forum that the latest sanctions against Russia demonstrate Europe’s unity and solidarity with Ukraine.
“It shows how close Ukraine is for every leader, every European country,” said Poroshenko.