Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on Russian Convoy in Ukraine
Today, 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.
The Ukrainian government and the international community have repeatedly made clear that this convoy would constitute a humanitarian mission only if expressly agreed to by the Ukrainian government and only if the aid was inspected, escorted and distributed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We can confirm that the ICRC is not escorting the vehicles 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. 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.
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.
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.
Russia’s decision today to send in its vehicles and personnel without the ICRC and without the express permission of the Ukrainian authorities only amplifies international concerns about Russia’s true intentions. 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. 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. This is a flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia. Russia must remove its vehicles and its personnel from the territory of Ukraine immediately.