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Russian Convoy Crosses Ukrainian Border, Prompting Outcry From West


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED - I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. There's been strong international reaction to Russia's latest action in Ukraine. This morning a convoy of Russian trucks crossed the Ukrainian border. Moscow says the trucks are carrying aid for civilians. But Ukraine says the convoy crossed the border without permission and without Red Cross supervision.

The U.S., NATO and European leaders all condemned the move, calling it a flagrant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talked today about ways to end the conflict in Ukraine. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joins us now from Kiev. And Soraya, I thought that the convoy was going to be inspected by the Ukrainians and it would be escorted by the Red Cross. What happened?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, the Russians say there was just too much procrastination. Only 34 trucks have been inspected as of yesterday and they were still sitting there. So they just pushed through. This is a part of the country that is in rebel-held hands. Pro-Russian rebels did protect this convoy. The Red Cross was nowhere to be seen with it. At least 20 trucks made it to Luhansk.

As to how many trucks exactly are in Ukrainian territory, there are different accounts being offered by everyone - the Ukrainians say 145, the Russians say all 280. But we know that 20 trucks are in Luhansk.

SIEGEL: So what has been the international reaction to Russia's action today?

NELSON: Well, there's been some fierce condemnation, certainly by the NATO secretary general. The Ukrainians are very upset about this. The White House said that Russia would face consequences if in fact this convoy did not return to Russian soil. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed deep concern about what happened.

But she said that it was important for this aid, as well as Ukrainian aid that's been arriving the area, to get to the people who need it most. In this case, it would be in the city of Luhansk. While many of the residents have fled, more than half of the 400 plus thousand that live there, the rest who are still there have been living without water and power for about three weeks. You know, no internet communications and they're constantly subjected to fighting.

SIEGEL: Well, the Russians say that the convoy is carrying help for civilians who were trapped by the fighting between the government and separatists. What exactly are the Ukrainian concerns about this?

NELSON: Well, all along the Ukrainians - they're bolstered by Western officials on this - they're concerned that this convoy is actually a ruse for the Russians to bring it arms for the pro-Russian separatists who are fighting with Ukrainian military right now in the east. And all along there have been accusations that Russian vehicles, armored vehicles and arms already moving across the border. They just didn't want to see it done in this formalized way with the convoy. As so that is why the Ukrainians wanted the Red Cross to oversee this. The Red Cross has refused to join the convoy or to be part of it because they said there were no security guarantees on Ukrainian side, either from the pro-Russian separatists and by the - the Ukrainian military.

I mean, the fighting still going on they said they would not be part of it unless there were security guarantees. There's also another concern that expressed by the prime minister here in Ukraine today, Arseniy Yatsenyuk - he says he's concerned that the pro-Russian rebels are going to in fact, attack this convoy and the Russian will say look, Ukraine attacked or the military attacked us. So it's a very sensitive situation having these trucks on Ukrainian soil without Ukrainian permission.

SIEGEL: And today's talks between Merkel and Putin - is that part of a new initiative to - to try to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine?

NELSON: Well, all along Chancellor Merkel has been very adamant that there be a diplomatic solution. She has lost a lot of patience with Russia, especially after the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight 17.

And so she's been much more supportive of sanctions being - strong sanctions being imposed. She's coming here to Kiev tomorrow to meet with President Petro Poroshenko and she is also been on the phone today with President Putin. So it does seem that she still is pushing for some sort of diplomatic solution. She has not embraced, shall we say, a military solution to this crisis.

SIEGEL: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson joining us from Kiev. Thank you, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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