A convoy of nearly 300 Russian trucks is headed from Moscow to the Ukraine border, carrying what Russia says are hundreds of tons of aid to civilians in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
But Ukraine says the goods will only be allowed entry if they are first inspected by the International Red Cross. For its part, the relief agency said Tuesday it had no direct contact with Russian authorities about the shipments, and it is awaiting information on the convoy's cargo.
It remained unclear late Tuesday when the convoy would complete its 750-kilometer journey, or what will happen if it is confronted at the border.
But Kyiv authorities said the Russian trucks could transfer their cargo at the border to trucks leased by the Red Cross, which has described the humanitarian situation in strife-torn eastern Ukraine as dire.
Valeriy Chaly, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said his government is "not considering" allowing the convoy to enter Ukraine. He said the Russian aid would be loaded onto vehicles provided by the ICRC, which will be responsible for coordinating and delivering international aid to eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine, Chaly added, will "definitely" not permit personnel from Russia's emergency situations ministry or military to accompany the Russian aid deliveries.
Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted a Russian Emergencies Ministry spokesman as saying 2,000 tons of supplies - including baby food, medicine and drinking water - left Moscow early Tuesday for the Ukrainian border.
Russia insists convoy going through
Later Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped that public statements made by "some figures" in Kyiv would be "disavowed," and would not interfere with an agreement he said had been reached between Russia, Ukraine and the ICRC. He claimed the Ukrainian side had earlier suggested transferring the Russian aid to trucks provided by the ICRC, but had "abandoned" the idea because it would "complicate" and increase the cost of the operation.
Lavrov also said Russia was "firmly relying" on reassurances he claimed were given by Ukraine that it would "guarantee the safe movement of the entire convoy through the territory controlled by the Kyiv security forces." The Russian foreign minister said he expected to get similar guarantees from the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier in the day, Russia's Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Moscow had "met the wishes" of Kyiv regarding the convoy's route and inspection of its cargo, adding that the two sides had agreed the aid would be delivered through a checkpoint on the border between Russia's Belgorod and Ukraine's Kharkiv regions.
Russian television reported Tuesday that Moscow's aid mission is being carried out in cooperation with the ICRC.
ICRC: no agreement
But the relief agency said Monday no agreement on Russian participation is in place and said in a statement "practical details need to be clarified" before such a mission could move forward.
On an official Twitter feed, the Red Cross said it had been told by Russian authorities about the aid heading to the border and added “we're not in charge of this convoy at the moment.”
The Red Cross said it needs to clarify details about the delivery, including the type and amount of aid, and that it is working with Russian and Ukrainian authorities on this issue.
Ukraine blasts Russia on aid to rebels
Officials in Kyiv said Russia continues to supply rebels in the east.
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky told reporters that Russia can improve the situation in the east by stopping its support of rebel groups.
“Stop the aggression, stop the Russian terrorists, stop the shelling, stop your cynical propaganda and there will be no need for any humanitarian aid," Lubkivsky said.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it is aiding the rebels.
In a phone call Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko agreed that any unapproved Russian intervention in Ukraine would be considered a violation of international law.
Fight for Donetsk
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said it is closing in on the remaining separatist strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Security council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told Reuters news agency that government forces had already cut off Donetsk from neighboring Luhansk, but would move to retake Donetsk first because, in his words, "it is more important."
Lysenko warned civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk to leave the areas "temporarily" to avoid the coming assault.
Early Tuesday, residents of Donetsk combed through the rubble of their belongings and recalled a night of shelling, during a break in fighting.
Others ventured out to buy food and stand in long queues for cash.
U.N. agencies said well over 1,000 people have been killed, including government forces, rebels and civilians, in the conflict in which a Malaysian airliner was downed on July 17 with the deaths of all 298 people on board.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters.