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By Nikolaus Von Twickel, dpa

MOSCOW (dpa) — A huge Russian aid convoy entered Ukraine without an escort from the Red Cross on Friday, provoking talk of an “invasion” in Kiev.

Some 100 lorries had crossed the border by 2 p.m., Russian state television reported. The vehicles drove through the Izvaryne border post in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, an area under the control of pro-Russian separatists.

Kiev immediately slammed the move, which it described as a “well-planned dangerous provocation.”

“We call this a direct invasion,” said the head of the Ukrainian security service, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko.

Explaining its decision, Russia said it was fed up with “endless artificial delays.” Almost 280 Russian lorries have remained stationary at the border with Ukraine for a week.

Ukraine, which fears that the convoy might be a ploy to supply the pro-Russian insurgents, had been demanding detailed cargo lists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the lorries had crossed the border without its participation, thus ignoring a central demand made by the Ukrainian government.

“Right now I can say that we are not part of this convoy,” ICRC spokeswoman Anastasia Isyuk told Interfax.

ICRC officials had said earlier on Friday that they needed fresh security guarantees to accompany the convoy through the conflict zone on the other side of the border.

Separatists in the self-declared “Luhansk People’s Republic” said that they would escort the lorries themselves.

“The convoy is moving under the protection of the insurgents,” an unnamed representative told Interfax.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had decided to send the convoy ahead without ICRC escort, but added that Red Cross workers were welcome to take part in delivering the aid.

The Ministry accused Ukraine of arbitrarily holding up much-needed aid for the embattled city of Luhansk. “All pretexts for further feet-dragging have been exhausted,” it said.

Luhansk, which has a peacetime population of more than 400,000, has been without mains water and electricity for 20 days. The rebel-held city has seen heavy fighting over the past week after government troops entered parts of it.

The escalation in rhetoric came a day before German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to hold talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev and press for a ceasefire. Poroshenko is then expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin along with top European Union officials in Belarus on Tuesday.

“The trip to Kiev is difficult and is an expression of support,” said Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

“Our aim is for both sides to agree to a ceasefire,” Seibert said, stressing that Berlin wants a peaceful solution to a conflict that has plunged relations between the West and Russia to a post-Cold War low.

The visit was also expected to focus on what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin has called the “Merkel Plan” to revive Ukraine’s battered economy.

“Many speak of a form of Marshall Plan. Why not a type of Merkel Plan? Germany is leading the efforts for stabilization,” Klimkin told Germany’s ZDF television channel.

The Marshall Plan was a massive U.S. aid program in the late 1940s that helped bombed-out Germany rebound economically.

In other developments, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council confirmed that the rebels had shot down a Mi-24 helicopter gunship near Luhansk on Wednesday. “All crew members were killed,” Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in Kiev, according to local news reports.

Fresh fighting was also reported from Donetsk, the bigger rebel-held east Ukrainian city.

AFP Photo/Sergey Venyavksy

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