Ukraine's president said Friday that the country's forces destroyed "a significant part" of a Russian military convoy that crossed into Ukrainian territory during the night, a charge denied by Russia.
The accusation came amid escalating tension over a separate convoy dispatched from Moscow this week that is said to be carrying food, clothing and generators for civilians caught in the fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia separatists in the eastern city of Luhansk.
Ukraine's government suspects that the Kremlin plans to use the humanitarian convoy as cover for a military invasion to shore up the flagging separatist movement, and it has pledged to defend its territory from outside attack.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron by telephone Friday about British news reports that armored Russian vehicles were seen crossing into Ukraine, near where more than 200 vehicles in the aid convoy were parked waiting for clearance to enter, according to a statement posted on the Ukrainian presidency's website.
“The president said that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the vehicles had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night,” the statement said.
The British Foreign Office said it had summoned Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to London, to explain the reports.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization confirmed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine but made no mention of a Ukrainian artillery strike.
“What we have seen last night is the continuation of what we have seen for some time," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Copenhagen on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
Ukraine's Western allies have backed the country's assertions that Russia is funneling weapons and other equipment to the insurgents in eastern Ukraine, charges denied by Moscow.
The European Union urged Russia on Friday “to put an immediate stop to any form of border hostilities, in particular to the flow of arms, military advisors and armed personnel into the conflict region and to withdraw its forces from the border.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the Russian military vehicles Ukraine claimed to have destroyed never existed.
Russia's Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of plotting a deadly attack on the Russian aid convoy, which it would blame on separatist fighters.
The ministry said in a statement that it had received information that a Ukrainian battalion was planning to lay land mines in the Luhansk region to “destroy the transport of humanitarian aid and the personnel accompanying the convoy and then accuse separatist terrorists of the attack.”
Meanwhile, the aid convoy remained stalled on the Russian side of the border.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the two countries were still finalizing the inspection and clearance procedures for the convoy and awaiting confirmation that the cargo was "strictly humanitarian."
"As and when agreement is reached, we plan to deliver this humanitarian aid to people affected by conflict in eastern Ukraine, health facilities and other welfare organizations,” Laurent Corbaz, head of Red Cross operations for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “People are struggling to cope with limited access to basic services such as water and electricity, so speed is of the essence.”
The Ukrainian government has also dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Luhansk region. About 50 aid trucks arrived Friday in Starobilsk, the Red Cross said.
Gorst is a special correspondent.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun