Russia let Ukrainian officials inspect an aid convoy while it was still on Russian soil Friday and agreed that the Red Cross can distribute the goods in Ukraine's rebel-held city of Luhansk. The twin moves aimed to dispel Ukrainian fears that the operation was a ruse to get military help to the pro-Russian separatists.
Violating an earlier deal, Russia had sent the convoy of roughly 200 aid trucks toward a border crossing under the control of pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine, raising the prospect that it could enter Ukraine without being inspected by Ukraine or the Red Cross.
Ukraine had vowed to use all means necessary to block the convoy in such a scenario, leading to fears of an escalation in the fighting that has ravaged eastern Ukraine since April.
Adding to the tensions, a dozen Russian armoured personnel carriers appeared early Friday near where the trucks were parked for the night, 28 kilometres (17 miles) from the border. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's security council, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine — a charge that Russia denied. Lysenko did not specify the source of his information.
Despite mutual distrust, the two sides reached an agreement early Friday and 41 Ukrainian border guards and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid in the Russian field, defence officials in Kyiv said.
Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine's border guard service, said Red Cross representatives would observe the inspections. Both sides also said the aid deliveries themselves would be carried out exclusively by the Red Cross.
Laurent Corbaz, the International Committee of the Red Cross' director of operations in Europe, described a tentative plan in which the trucks would enter Ukraine with a single Russian driver each — as opposed to the current crew of several people in each truck — accompanied by a Red Cross worker. In line with Red Cross policy, there would be no military escort, he said.
Corbaz said the plan foresees the aid being delivered to a central point in rebel-held territory, then distributed through the region.
It was unclear how long the operation might last but "it's not going to be solved in one week," he said.
Corbaz said the Red Cross still had not received the security guarantees it needs to proceed in rebel territory.
The presence of aid distribution points in the city of Luhansk and other rebel-held areas could dampen the military operation by Ukrainian government troops to recapture all of eastern Ukraine from the rebels.