A convoy purportedly carrying humanitarian aid is parked about 17 miles from Ukrainian border, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, on Friday. Ukrainian officials have insisted on inspecting the cargo over fears that the convoy might be a pretext for invasion. Pavel Golovkin/AP
Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance observed a “Russian incursion” into Ukraine overnight, confirming that Moscow was continuing to supply separatists with “a continuous flow of weapons and fighters.”
The remarks come as a Russian convoy purportedly carrying humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine has been halted near the border as it awaits inspection by officials concerned that it could be a pretext for invasion.
“Last night we saw a Russian incursion, a crossing of the Ukrainian border,” Rasmussen told reporters after meeting the Danish defense minister, according to Reuters.
“It just confirms the fact that we see a continuous flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into eastern Ukraine and it is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilization of eastern Ukraine,” he said.
Bloomberg says: “The incursion last night isn’t seen by Ukraine as a new development or a possible start of an invasion by Russia, Defense Ministry spokesman Leonid Matyukhin said by phone. The vehicles were painted white to camouflage the operation as a peacekeeping mission, he said. The military column, which wasn’t part of Russia’s convoy delivering humanitarian aid, rolled into insurgent-held territory, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the military, told reporters in Kiev today.”
Meanwhile, NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, at the eastern border with Russia, says Ukrainian officials reportedly have begun inspecting the convoy at a border crossing that leads to Luhansk, an area where fighting between pro-Russia separatists and Kiev’s forces has been ongoing.
Karoun Demirjian, reporting for NPR from Moscow, says the inspections are taking place on the Russian side of the border.
The Associated Press say Moscow has agreed to the procedure and to allow the Red Cross to distribute the aid.
In a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday, spokesman Laurent Corbaz said the relief organization would deliver the aid to health centers in the area inside Ukraine where fighting was taking place. He urged both sides to agree quickly to moving the aid to where it’s needed.
“We still need assurances from all parties to the conflict that our staff will be allowed to perform their tasks safely and with due respect for our humanitarian principles,” he said.
Karoun reports that European diplomatic officials and some journalists in the area first reported that some Russian military vehicles did cross into Ukraine overnight and that two British newspapers said “at least 23 Russian military vehicles” were involved.
Earlier, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said the alliance was checking out the reports of the incursion.
“If confirmed, they are further evidence that Russia is doing the very opposite of what it’s saying. Russia has been escalating the conflict, even as it calls for de-escalation,” she said in response to a question from Reuters.
“It is high time that Russia did what it says it wants to do, which is to contribute to a peaceful solution. Russia needs to pull back its troops, stop the flow of arms and fighters over the border with Ukraine, stop supporting the separatists and engage in a genuine and sincere dialog with Ukraine.”