MOSCOW — A Russian aid convoy struck a new course toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, apparently flouting Ukrainian demands that all humanitarian shipments be subject to government inspections and prompting Kiev to threaten a direct confrontation if the convoy tries to pass through.
"Any attempt to introduce any convoy without the agreement of Ukraine will be considered an open aggression," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev. "The entire world will consider them direct aggressors."
It is the second time in less than a week that tension between Ukraine and Russia has flared over the convoy, which Ukrainian authorities refused to allow through a government-controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region this week.
Early Thursday, the vehicles set off south through Russian territory along a highway leading from Moscow through areas abutting Ukraine's eastern regions. By afternoon, the convoy had taken a sharp turn west and was headed directly for the Izvarino border crossing in the Luhansk region, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Russian officials have maintained that the convoy of more than 250 trucks is a humanitarian mission, intended to provide the beleaguered civilians of war-torn Luhansk with food, blankets and other emergency supplies. But Ukrainian officials fear that Russia might use the mission as a Trojan horse to launch an invasion of eastern Ukraine.
As Ukraine and Russia continued to negotiate with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ukraine's government on Thursday started sending its own aid shipments to the east. The aid was sent even as Kiev escalated the bombardment of the rebel stronghold Donetsk, where city officials said two civilians were killed.