The White House vaguely warned today that Russia would face “additional consequences” for its latest incursion into Ukraine.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, issued its own lengthy statement earlier today calling “endless delays hampering the initial deliveries of the Russian humanitarian relief aid to southeastern Ukraine” simply “intolerable.”
“It is no longer possible to tolerate this lawlessness, outright lies and inability to reach agreements. All pretexts for delaying the delivery of aid to people in the humanitarian disaster zone have been depleted. The Russian side has decided to act. Our humanitarian relief convoy is setting out towards Lugansk,” the Russian MFA said.
“We are warning against any attempts to thwart this purely humanitarian mission which took a long time to prepare in conditions of complete transparency and cooperation with the Ukrainian side and the [International Committee of the Red Cross]. Those who are ready to continue sacrificing human lives to their own ambitions and geopolitical designs and who are rudely trampling on the norms and principles of international humanitarian law will assume complete responsibility for the possible consequences of provocations against the humanitarian relief convoy.”
In a statement this afternoon, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed that “in violation of its previous commitments and international law, Russian military vehicles painted to look like civilian trucks forced their way into Ukraine.”
“While a small number of these vehicles were inspected by Ukrainian customs officials, most of the vehicles have not been inspected by anyone but Russia. We condemn this action by Russia, for which it will bear additional consequences,” she said.
Furthermore, Hayden confirmed that the Red Cross was not escorting the convoy “and has no role in managing the mission, a condition that all parties had agreed would be required.”
“Under the agreed terms, the mission should have been accomplished by sending a small number of inspected trucks in to drop their supplies and return to Russia within 24 hours by the same approved route by which they entered,” she said. “That is not what is taking place. As we and governments around the world have said all along, Russia has no right to send vehicles, persons, or cargo of any kind into Ukraine, whether under the guise of humanitarian convoys or any other pretext, without the express permission of the government of Ukraine.”
At the White House press briefing, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said they “think this is part of a pattern that we’ve seen in recent weeks and that we’ve highlighted of Russian support to armed separatists in eastern Ukraine that, again, violates Ukraine’s sovereignty and destabilizes the situation.”
“So we are, again, deeply concerned about this. We’re in touch with the Ukrainian government,” he said. “We will be in touch today with our partners at the U.N. Security Council to discuss next steps.”
Hayden said “the primary barrier to the delivery of the humanitarian aid has been the lack of security guarantees from the Russia-backed separatists.”
“Russian military vehicles piloted by Russian drivers have unilaterally entered the territory controlled by the separatist forces Russia has been training, supplying, and reinforcing for months. The Ukrainian humanitarian assistance convoy was prevented from delivering much needed assistance to Luhansk city,” she said.
“At the same time as Russian vehicles violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia maintains a sizable military force on the Ukrainian border capable of invading Ukraine on very short notice. It has repeatedly fired into Ukrainian territory, and has sent an ever-increasing stream of military equipment and fighters into Ukraine. As a result, the international community has been profoundly concerned that Russia’s actions today are nothing but a pretext for further Russian escalation of the conflict. We recall that Russia denied its military was occupying Crimea until it later admitted its military role and attempted to annex this part of Ukraine.”
Hayden added that if Russia “really wants to ease the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, it could do so today by halting its supply of weapons, equipment, and fighters to its proxies.”
“It is important to remember that Russia is purporting to alleviate a humanitarian situation which Russia itself created – a situation that has caused the deaths of thousands, including 300 innocent passengers of flight MH17,” she said. “…Russia must remove its vehicles and its personnel from the territory of Ukraine immediately.”