The Telegraph, London, on August 14, 2014, reported that a column of armoured vehicles and military trucks crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine during the night of August 14, in the first confirmed sighting of such an incident by Western journalists. Excerpts below:
A separate, larger convoy of around 270 Russian trucks, which Moscow claims is carrying aid, rumbled to a halt just short of the border on, while in east Ukraine, shells hit the centre of rebel-held Donetsk for the first time.
The Telegraph witnessed a column of vehicles including both armoured personal carriers and soft-skinned lorries crossing into Ukraine at an obscure border crossing near the Russian town of Donetsk shortly before 10pm local time.
The Ukrainian and Western governments have long accused Russia of filtering arms and men across the border to fuel the separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but such an incident has never before been witnessed by Western journalists.
The convoy, which included at least 23 vehicles, appeared to be waiting until sunset near a refugee camp just outside Donetsk, before moving towards the crossing without turning off headlights or making any other attempt to conceal itself.
While it was not immediately clear whether all of that convoy crossed the border, The Telegraph did see a substantial number of vehicles pass through check point manned by gunmen after shadowing the convoy down narrow country lanes near the frontier.
While the force did not seem to be a substantial invasion force, it confirms that military supplies are moving across the border. While the APCs carried no visible markings the fuel tankers and soft-skinned trucks in the convoy bore black Russian military number plates.
The vehicles do not appear to be associated with the Russian aid convoy that is camped 20 miles further down the same road.
Intense shelling on Luhansk and Donetsk left more than 25 people dead, while Ukrainian forces reported nine troops dead and 18 injured over the past day.
Igor “The Shooter” Girkin, the rebels’ military commander, resigned from his post on August 14. He will be replaced by a senior militiaman known only as “The Tsar”.
Besides Mr Girkin, another senior rebel leader, Valery Bolotov, resigned yesterday saying it was due to injuries.
Kiev sees Moscow’s calls for peace as deeply hypocritical and is suspicious of the aid convoy, which it believes is a possible covert invasion, or at least an attempt by Moscow to freeze a Ukrainian advance on rebel strongholds.
Russia’s aid convoy is aimed at Luhansk, the worst-hit city, where residents have been without electricity and running water for several weeks, homes have been destroyed by artillery and mortar fire and food supplies are dwindling.
The ICRC said that it would not facilitate the convoy if Russia decided to send the trucks into Ukraine without permission. “Talks between the two sides are continuing but we can’t help unless they come to an agreement,” said Victoria Zotikova, a spokesman.
But while there are no guns on display, the mission has a distinctly military flavour.
The drivers in khaki are clean-shaven service age males, and they drive originally army-green lorries that have been hastily spray-painted white. At least one bore distinct tattoos normally associated with the armed forces.