Red Cross Makes Progress on Russian Aid Convoy to Ukraine

The Red Cross is making progress on details of a safe-passage plan for a Russian aid convoy intended for southeast Ukraine, after four-way talks on a halt to the fighting reached an impasse in Berlin.

The crisis, in which Ukrainian troops have been battling pro-Russian separatists for months, can only be stemmed once the government in Kiev calls off its army as part of an unconditional cease-fire, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday in the German capital. Ukraine says it will declare a truce if the pro-Russian rebels lay down their arms and Russia stops supplying them with weapons.

Galina Balzamova, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said today she expects agreement “in the very near future” on security guarantees for the Geneva-based agency to accompany the Russian aid trucks, though she said she couldn’t give a specific time. The ICRC says it’s “extremely concerned” about the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine.

In Kiev, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said yesterday that separatists shelled a column of civilian vehicles in the Luhansk region, killing “dozens of people.” There was no independent confirmation. Government troops have been shelled 10 times since yesterday, the Defense Ministry said on its Facebook page.

Eastern Fighting

Government forces are fighting rebels in Yasynuvata in the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine and blockading Ilovaysk to the east of Donetsk, the ministry said. Meanwhile, paratroopers and infantry are battling to keep control of the villages of Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate in the neighboring Luhansk region.

Ukraine’s central bank raised its overnight refinancing rate to 17.5 percent today from 15 percent as it seeks to support the hryvnia. The Ukrainian currency fell 0.9 percent to 13.15 per dollar today, taking its decline for the month to 6.7 percent. Russia’s benchmark Micex stock index gained for an eighth day today, rising 0.8 percent at 12:47 p.m. in Moscow.

“As long as they’re betting on a military solution, and as long as the authorities in Kiev are using military victories over their own people to shore up their position in Kiev, I don’t think there’s any point to what we’re trying to do now,” Lavrov said. He said no resolution was reached in the talks with his Ukrainian, German and French counterparts. No date has been set for a resumption.

Sanctions Imposed

European leaders are pushing to halt the conflict that’s killed more than 2,000 people and fractured Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in March. The war, which Ukraine and its allies say is being fueled by President Vladimir Putin’s support for the insurgents, has led to sanctions that have hurt trade and threatened to send Russia’s $2 trillion economy into a recession. Russia denies it’s helping the separatists.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Ukraine on Aug. 23 for talks with President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on the conflict and relations with Russia, Merkel’s office said in a statement today.

“There’s an element of playing for time in the Berlin talks on Russia’s part but they also want to take some of the air out of the crisis,” Jan Techau, director of the Brussels office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said by telephone yesterday. “Russia wants the crisis to simmer, so it has a means of control over Ukraine, but doesn’t want it to run out of control.”

Ukrainian Allegations

Lavrov said there was progress in securing the border between Russia and Ukraine. The government in Kiev says its forces are being targeted by artillery from Russian territory and alleges that its neighbor is supplying the fighters with arms, men and financing.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the Berlin talks brought “moderate progress,” though he called on Russia to follow words with actions.

“The idea is that Russia, at least half-heartedly, is ready to talk about some measures about the border, but not about taking responsibility, influencing the terrorists, or separatists, or rebels -- how Russia used to call them -- to ensure that the border is closed, and that is a critical issue,” Klimkin said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

Klimkin and Lavrov “had an intense exchange of opinions” during more than five hours of talks, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer said yesterday.

The Red Cross is planning to send more workers to the southern Russian Rostov region from Geneva today, Victoria Zotikova, a Moscow-based spokeswoman, said by telephone. The organization plans to reinforce officials already on the ground to examine and accompany the aid trucks.

Ukraine agreed to let the supplies cross the border into territory held by Russian-backed separatists under supervision of the ICRC.

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