Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- The Red Cross said truckloads of Russian humanitarian aid may start crossing the border tomorrow to eastern Ukraine, where months of fighting has cut off water and electricity to residents of the region’s biggest cities.
Inspections of almost 300 Russian trucks have begun, Laurent Corbaz, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of operations for Europe, said today in Moscow. The organization had been seeking security guarantees as battles raged on between Ukraine’s army and pro-Russian separatists.
“The ICRC sent additional staff to the area and received all the authorization from the authorities to clear the aid and humanitarian cargo as soon as possible,” Corbaz told reporters. “The convoy could start its operation soon,” he said. “Hopefully tomorrow.”
Russia, which Ukraine and its allies blame for stoking the insurgency, dispatched a convoy containing food and other supplies last week. The trucks have been parked near the two nations’ border awaiting clearance to proceed. Ukraine has been fractured by the fighting that’s erupted since Russia annexed Crimea in March. Russia denies it’s involved in the conflict, which has triggered sanctions from the U.S. and Europe.
Russia isn’t planning to invade Ukraine under the guise of the humanitarian convoy, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said after a meeting with Corbaz, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news service. The Foreign Ministry in Moscow reiterated a call for a cease-fire to facilitate the delivery of aid and proposed a UN Security Council statement on the truce, it said on its website.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the cease-fire call and steps to help deliver the humanitarian aid, the ministry said in a separate statement.
Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, lost 1.5 percent against the dollar today, extending its decline this year to 38 percent, the second-worst among 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg behind Ghana’s cedi. Russia’s Micex stock index rose 1 percent in Moscow, gaining for a 10th day. Ukraine’s 2017 Eurobond declined the most in almost two weeks, pushing the yield up 26 basis points to 10.08 percent before it retreated to 9.99 percent at 9:30 p.m. in Kiev.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’ll seek to negotiate a peace agreement when he meets his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and representatives of the European Union next week in Minsk, Belarus.
Fighting continued in Ukraine’s easternmost regions, with the unrest posing a potential obstacle to the passage of the Russian aid, according to Galina Balzamova, a Red Cross spokeswoman who said a delegation visited Luhansk yesterday.
“The security situation is changing by the minute,” she said at the border with Ukraine in Russia’s Rostov region. “The convoy will only move when it can travel safely.”
Five soldiers were killed and 21 wounded in the past day, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters today in Kiev. Thirty-four civilians were killed and 29 hurt in and around Donetsk, the separatists’ main stronghold, over 24 hours, the regional administration said yesterday. The office, led by Governor Serhiy Taruta, an appointee of then-acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, uses hospital data for the casualty numbers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated calls Aug. 18 for an unconditional cease-fire. Ukraine’s government says it will declare a truce only if the pro-Russian rebels lay down their arms and Russia stops supplying them with weapons.
Meanwhile, NATO countries preparing for a Sept. 4-5 summit are weighing their response to the events. Estonia, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia is confident that the military alliance will boost its presence in the country, Prime Minister Taavi Roivas said.
“Having troops there, stationing equipment there, arranging exercises there is much more effective and at least as good a deterrent as building additional bases,” he told reporters today in the capital, Tallinn.
Hungary, another eastern European member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is ready to host military drills and contribute to strengthening the alliance’s presence, the Defense Ministry in Budapest said in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg. Hungary is “certain” that the summit will yield agreements, including on the crisis in Ukraine, it said.
In Kiev, Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said on Twitter that parliament may be dissolved on Aug. 24, the day on which Ukraine marks its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. The nation plans to call early elections this year, after holding the presidential ballot that brought Poroshenko to power in May.
The votes are a consequence of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster in February, when he fled to Russia amid violent street protests. A member of the government that took over, Economy Minister Pavlo Sheremeta, stepped down today, citing the appointment of a deputy without his consent.
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