A driver, left, and Russian custom service officers stand near trucks of the Russian aid convoy which are searched at a Russian inspection zone inside a border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks of the Russian aid convoy crossed the Ukrainian inspection zone Friday morning. (AP Photo/A driver, left, and Russian custom service officers stand near trucks of the Russian aid convoy which are searched at a Russian inspection zone inside a border control point with Ukraine in the Russian town of Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don region, Russia, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. The first trucks of the Russian aid convoy crossed the Ukrainian inspection zone Friday morning. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin))
Pentagon condemns Russian convoy movement
01:55 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

White House: Obama, Merkel agree Russian convoy is "a provocation"

UK ambassador: Convoy "has nothing to do with humanitarianism"

Lithuania official: Consul kidnapped, killed by "terrorists"

Putin blames Ukraine, says it'd be "unacceptable" to delay sending convoy

Kiev, Ukraine CNN  — 

Is it an act of compassion or one of belligerence?

Both judgments were offered Friday on the dozens of Russian trucks that have rolled into eastern Ukraine, a move Russian leaders cast as necessary to address a humanitarian crisis and a Ukrainian official characterized as an “invasion” of his nation by its mighty neighbor to the east.

While getting agreement on the right answer is impossible at this moment, there’s little doubt the actions have raised tensions to new levels – and that’s saying something, given the volatility over the past many months.

The latest row revolves around aid going from Russia to Ukraine. Kiev had stalled trucks on the Russian side of the border for days, before acknowledging Sunday that the convoy, in fact, had humanitarian aid.

That admission didn’t end the discord and debate. As of 11:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET) Friday, 227 Russian vehicles had crossed into Ukraine, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has an observer mission at the checkpoint the convoy went through.

All the vehicles were supposed to be monitored by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, the Red Cross said it wasn’t accompanying them due to the “volatile security situation” – a reference to continued fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of directly and indirectly bolstering the rebel movement. The Kiev-based government and its allies – including the NATO alliance and its core member, the United States – see this convoy as perhaps Moscow’s most glaring, egregious move yet.

“We call this a direct invasion for the first time under cynical cover of the Red Cross,” said Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the head of Ukraine’s security service.

Right now, Ukraine isn’t planning to go after the convoy. Still, Nalyvaychenko thinks its main purpose is to supply rebels and its drivers are not even civilians.

To Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is Ukraine’s government – not his – that’s being irresponsible and fueling instability in eastern Ukraine.

Putin expressed “serious concern” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about endangered civilians and other impacts from Ukraine’s “continued (military) escalation,” according to the Kremlin.

He further criticized what he characterized as “Kiev’s blatant attempts to hinder the delivery of Russian humanitarian aid” into southeast Ukraine, implying he had no choice but to act.

“Further delay would have been unacceptable,” a Kremlin statement said.

U.S. official warns Russia on convoys

The international community hardly embraced Putin’s version of events.

The British ambassador to the United Nations said that Russia had no support at a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday on the topic. The diplomat, Mark Lyall Grant, made no doubt about his own country’s views on the convoy’s entrance into Ukraine.

“It is an undeniable and blatant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and clear breach of international law and the U.N. charter,” Lyall Grant told reporters. “It has nothing to do with humanitarianism.”

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that the the “so-called humanitarian convoy … can only deepen the crisis in the region, which Russia itself has created and has continued to fuel.”

“The disregard of international humanitarian principles raises further questions about whether the true purpose of the aid convoy is to support civilians or to resupply armed separatists,” Rasmussen said in a statement.

Merkel talked not only with Putin – during which she voiced her “grave concern” – but also with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The two leaders agreed that Ukraine “has continued to deteriorate since the tragic downing” of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, purportedly by pro-Russian rebels, the White House said. The pair concurred, too, that the convoy “is a further provocation and a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty” and called for the stop “of Russian personnel, military equipment and armored vehicles into eastern Ukraine.”

Other U.S. officials laid into Russia publicly.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that Moscow has been told in “very, very clear (terms) that they should not be doing this under the guise of a humanitarian convoy, to use that as an excuse to cross the border in a non-authorized way.”