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June 25, 2017

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Kiev, West slam Russian aid convoy to east Ukraine

The European Union and the United States demanded that Russia immediately withdraw the convoy, amid fears the cargo could shore up pro-Moscow rebels fighting Kiev's forces.

Washington warned Russia it could face further sanctions, while the UN Security Council expressed concern the move could lead to an escalation in the four-month conflict.

Some 280 trucks from the Russian convoy had been waiting at the border with Ukraine for a week as Moscow pressed for the aid to be delivered urgently to civilians in areas that have come under Ukrainian shelling.

By evening, the trucks had all reached Lugansk and were unloading their cargo, Russian state television reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said further delay would have been "unacceptable" as he justified the decision in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who travels to Kiev Saturday for talks with Ukraine's leadership.

Merkel and US President Barack Obama warned that Moscow's military presence and shelling were triggering a "dangerous escalation" of the conflict, and they demanded it remove the convoy.

In a telephone call, the pair "agreed that Russia sending a convoy into Ukraine without Ukraine's approval is a further provocation and a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the White House said.

A first group of trucks reached Lugansk, which has been without water and power for weeks, after making its way along a perilous route from the border, a local official said.

Ukraine's security service head Valentyn Nalyvaychenko condemned the entry as "a direct invasion" but said Ukraine will not order air strikes on the trucks.

Ukraine and Russia each said the other side was responsible for the convoy's security between the border and rebel bastion Lugansk, 63 kilometres (40 miles) away, and Russia's foreign ministry warned "against any attempts to disrupt a totally humanitarian mission."

The UN Security Council met for urgent consultations, at Lithuania's request, but Russia insisted the aid was desperately needed and accused Ukraine of using stalling tactics.

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