AP - Russia let Ukrainian officials inspect an aid convoy on Friday and agreed to let the Red Cross distribute the aid around the rebel-held city of Luhansk, easing tensions and dispelling Ukrainian fears that the aid operation is a ruse to get military help to separatist rebels.
In violation of an earlier tentative agreement, Russia had sent the convoy of roughly 200 trucks to a border crossing under the control of pro-Russia separatists, raising the prospect that it could enter Ukraine without being inspected by Ukraine and the Red Cross. Ukraine vowed to use all means necessary to block the convoy in such a scenario, leading to fears of escalation in the conflict.
Adding to the tensions, a dozen Russian armored personnel carriers appeared early Friday near where the trucks were parked for the night, 28 kilometers (17 miles) from the border.
But the two sides reached agreement Friday morning, and 41 Ukrainian border guards and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the border crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. 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 that 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 crew of several people currently 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.
The details were still being negotiated by all sides, including the insurgents, Corbaz said in Kiev, and the Red Cross still had not received the security guarantees it needs to proceed.
The presence of aid distribution points in Luhansk and other rebel-held areas could have the effect of dampening the force of the assault by Ukrainian government troops.
Meanwhile, Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area. Trucks sent from the eastern city of Kharkiv were unloaded Friday morning at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, where the goods will be sorted and transported further by the Red Cross. Starobilsk is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Luhansk.