Ukraine, Russia Parry Over Russian Aid Convoy

KAMENSK-SHAKHTINSKY, Russia (AP) -

Raising the stakes in Ukraine’s conflict, a Russian aid convoy of more than 200 trucks pushed up to the border on Thursday but then stopped, provocatively poised to cross into rebel-held territory.

The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops.

The United States has warned Russia that it needs to secure Ukraine’s permission for the convoy to enter.

“We’ve made that very clear to the Russians that they should not move these trucks in, without taking all of the steps the Ukrainian government has outlined,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.

Amid the tensions surrounding the convoy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called Russian and Ukrainian leaders to arrange three-way consultations on ways to de-escalate the crisis. Barroso’s office said that details will be worked out through diplomatic channels.

Ukraine announced it was organizing its own aid shipment to the war-wracked separatist region of Luhansk.

Complicating the dispute over the dueling missions, Ukraine said Thursday it has gained control over a key town near Luhansk city, thereby giving it the means to block the presumed route that the Russian convoy would take to the city.

The town, Novosvitlivka, lies about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border, so if the Russian trucks did enter the country, they potentially could unload somewhere other than city itself.