The Red Cross demanded safety guarantees before it begins inspecting the first 16 trucks of a convoy Russia says is carrying humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as the nations’ top diplomats discussed a possible truce.
Ukraine agreed to let the aid cross the border into territory held by Russian-backed separatists under supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which said it hadn’t received the safety guarantees it needs. In Berlin, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov for more than five hours of talks, seeking to ease tension after officials in Kiev said troops had destroyed part of an armored column from Russia.
“It was a difficult conversation,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after the talks, which ended shortly before midnight. “I hope and I believe that we made progress on a few points” and the governments will decide today or tomorrow whether to pursue the talks, he said.
European leaders are pushing to halt the conflict that’s killed more than 2,000 people and fractured Ukraine since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March. The war, which Ukraine and its allies say is being fueled by Russia’s support for the rebels, has also touched off sanctions that have hurt trade and threatened to send President Vladimir Putin’s $2 trillion economy into a recession.
Under an agreement two days ago, the Russian mission of about 275 trucks will proceed through a border checkpoint after which the ICRC will inspects and distribute it.
“We need guarantees from all sides involved in the process,” Red Cross spokeswoman Galina Balzamova told reporters in Rostov, Russia. “Once we get the guarantees of security, an inspection will start.”
Balzamova said talks with Russian, Ukrainian and rebel officials will continue today and that 20 Red Cross workers had come to Russia’s Rostov region to join the inspections. Anatoliy Makarenko, head of Ukraine’s state customs service, said once inspected, the cargo would be taken in by the Red Cross in batches of 30 trucks each.
At the border, fresh white paint was peeling off of 16 trucks to show a khaki undercoating like that found on military equipment. Trucks at the assembly point were about a third full of bags labeled “grain” and boxes of canned goods, a Bloomberg reporter said.
The Red Cross also delivered 100 tons of aid provided by Ukraine to villages in the country’s east, it said on Twitter.
In Berlin, Germany’s Steinmeier said Ukraine and Russia discussed a “badly needed” cease-fire in talks last night that also included French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
While Lavrov and Klimkin didn’t comment as they left the talks, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said via Facebook that there had been some progress. Klimkin used Twitter to thank his German and French counterparts for their support and said Ukraine hadn’t crossed any of the “red lines” it’s set itself.
Yesterday’s meeting in Berlin may be a first step toward a new peace summit, French President Francois Hollande’s office said in a statement. Steinmeier said “the real drama” was that previous agreements between Ukraine, Russia and the rebels hadn’t been met.
The talks helped Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures advance 0.4 percent today. European equity-index futures surged 1.5 percent while crude oil and bonds slipped.
In Luhansk, a city of more than 400,000 where Ukrainian forces are trying to encircle the separatist rebels, residents went for its 15th day without power and water, the City Council said on its website. Ukrainian forces said they’d raised the national flag over a police station in the city, Reuters said.
In Donetsk, whose population is more than double that of Luhansk, the city council urged residents to store water because the main supply line had been damaged and would be shut off, according to its website. The council reported shelling across the city today. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled both cities to escape fighting.
Ukraine says its forces are being targeting by artillery from Russian territory and alleges that its neighbor is also supplying the separatists with arms, men and financing. Russia rejects Ukraine’s accusations, which the U.S. and the European Union have also supported.
Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said in an Internet video two days ago that separatists had amassed 150 armored vehicles, including 30 tanks and other assault carriers, plus another 1,200 fighters who received four months of training in Russia that arrived in Ukraine “at the most important moment.”
Russia denies an Aug. 15 allegation that Ukrainian troops attacked a military column from Russia after a journalist for the Guardian posted images of what the U.K. newspaper said were light armored assault vehicles moving over the frontier.
“We have repeatedly said that there were no arm supplies to the east of Ukraine,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said by phone.
Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said Ukraine’s comments on the armored column are based on “fantasies,” RIA Novosti reported on Aug. 15. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Ukraine’s statements “provocation,” and part of an “information war.”