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MOSCOW, August 12, /ITAR-TASS/. A convoy of up to 280 trucks carrying 2,000 metric tons of humanitarian cargo for the embattled southeastern Ukrainian regions has set off on early Tuesday from the Moscow Region, an Itar-Tass correspondent reported from the scene.
The Moscow Region administration stated that the humanitarian aid consists of foodstuffs mainly and in particular includes 400 metric tons of grain, 100 metric tons of sugar, 62 metric tons of baby food, 54 metric tons of medicine and medical equipment, 12,000 sleeping bags, 69 portable power generators.
In a telephone conversation with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia in cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross would send a humanitarian convoy to Ukraine.
Putin shared his assessment of the crisis in Ukraine and its causes, placing the emphasis on “the catastrophic consequences of the military operation the Kiev authorities are conducting in south-eastern regions and on the need for urgent humanitarian aid to the region”, the presidential press service said.
The Red Cross reported on Friday that armed clashes between pro-Kiev troops and self-defense militias in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions had deteriorated the humanitarian situation in east Ukraine as thousands of families had been forced to flee their homes.
“The living conditions of the resident population are worsening also,” the Red Cross said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Russia was taking efforts to agree with Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations on humanitarian aid deliveries.
The Russian foreign minister said humanitarian aid was urgently needed in east Ukraine as Lugansk was left without water and electricity and local hospitals were short of “basic medicines.”
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has also stated its readiness to support the humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
Swiss President and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Didier Burkhalter welcomed the ICRC announcement that it would step up activities for the affected population in south-eastern Ukrainian regions and deploy additional teams there.
Almost 850,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of Kiev’s military operation in the country’s southeast, of whom 730,000 have found shelter in Russia, according to data reported by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United States is concerned that Russia’s planned humanitarian aid for the embattled southeastern Ukraine might be “a pretense” for a military invasion of the ex-Soviet state, US Department of State Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said.
“We believe Russia’s been trying to lay the international groundwork to support a humanitarian operation into Ukraine,” Harf told a daily press briefing. “We are concerned that Russia could try to use a humanitarian or peacekeeping operation as a pretense for inserting elements of military force into Ukraine.”
Asked to explain what kind of groundwork Russia attempted to lay for the humanitarian aid, Harf said “they have been laying groundwork for increased intervention in Ukraine, with the large build-up of troops at the border that we’ve seen.”
“They’ve deployed a sizeable military force to the Ukrainian border. This force is capable of invading Ukraine on very short notice if Russia were to elect to do so. A large portion of this force is deployed only a few kilometers from the border,” she said.
The US Department of State official also said she did not “have any sympathy for the separatists, who have taken up arms against the Ukrainians and killed innocent civilians.”
The United States calls militiamen in Ukraine’s Southeast fighting for the rights of the local population “separatists”.