Speed Reads

Crisis in Ukraine

Russia's 'humanitarian' mission to Ukraine is likely prelude to an invasion, NATO warns

Early Tuesday, Russia said it has sent a convoy of about 280 trucks carrying food, medicine, and other supplies toward the Ukraine border. The destination is the Ukrainian city of Luhansk, controlled by pro-Russia separatists and under siege by Ukrainian troops, and the convoy is at least theoretically part of a humanitarian mission overseen by the Red Cross. NATO isn't buying it, and Kiev is nervous.

On Monday, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called Russian President Vladimir Putin and "warned against any unilateral military actions in Ukraine, under any pretext, including humanitarian," the EU said. The Kremlin gave its side of the conversation, in which Putin had "focused attention on the catastrophic consequences of the military operation" by Ukraine and pointedly "noted that the Russian side, in cooperation with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is sending a humanitarian convoy to Ukraine."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed to a Red Cross mission, but only if it involved the European Union as well as Russia. The ICRC said Monday that "the practical details of this operation need to be clarified before this initiative can move forward."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday that he judged there to be "a high probability" that Russia will stage a military intervention, noting as Ukraine gets closer and closer to taking control of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia's state-run media has increasingly warned about the humanitarian crisis in the primarily Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities. "We see the Russians developing the narrative and the pretext for such an operation under the guise of a humanitarian operation, and we see a military build-up that could be used to conduct such illegal military operations in Ukraine," Rasmussen added.

NATO has estimated that Russia has about 20,000 troops and ample heavy weaponry amassed at the Russia-Urkaine border, primed to invade. On Monday, Ukraine said there are about 45,000 Russia troops, plus 160 tanks, 1,360 armored vehicles, 390 artillery systems, up to 150 truck-mounted missile launchers, 192 fighter jets, and 137 attack helicopters. Western intelligence hasn't verified those numbers.