Red Cross denies coordinating Russian aid convoy to Ukraine

GENEVA, Switzerland  The Red Cross on Saturday, August 9, denied involvement in a Russian "humanitarian convoy" that Ukraine claimed to have stopped from crossing the border over fears it was an attempt by Moscow to invade the ex-Soviet state.

The charity said while it had received an offer from Moscow to organize aid convoys, and would welcome any effort to ease civilian suffering in the region, no such action had taken place.

Valeriy Chaliy, deputy head of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's office said Friday that Kiev had used diplomatic means to stop a Russian convoy including troops and military hardware, headed for the Ukrainian border.

"Supposedly in consultation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ukraine, the humanitarian convoy with 'peacekeepers' was meant to enter apparently in order to provoke a full-scale conflict."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offered earlier this week to send generators, food and water purification and medical equipment to eastern Ukraine, as fears mounted Moscow was planning to send in troops in the guise of a humanitarian mission.

"In the current situation, any humanitarian initiative is welcome to alleviate the suffering of civilians," Michel Masson, who heads ICRC operations in Ukraine, said in a statement.

But while the organisation was "exploring the possibilities of distributing additional aid in the conflict zones", accepting the Russian offer would require "the involvement, endorsement and support of all concerned parties," he said.

"Any ICRC action will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence," he stressed.

ICRC spokeswoman Sitara Jabee told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that if all sides in the conflict were to agree, the ICRC could potentially receive aid from Russia, but would then "distribute it according to our own modalities and methodology."

But so far, "nothing has been done," she said.

The West, which accuses Russia of supplying fighters and weapons to fuel the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, has long warned that Russia's build-up of troops on the border could see Moscow invade its troubled neighbor.

The ICRC also announced Friday it would step up its aid efforts in eastern Ukraine, as intensified clashes in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions forced thousands more families to flee.

It said it was deploying additional teams in Mariupol, to the south of Donetsk, and Strobilsk, to the east of Lugansk.

More than 1,300 people have been killed and 285,000 forced to flee their homes over four months of what the Red Cross has designated a civil war in eastern Ukraine. – Rappler.com