Russian Trucks Are Leaving Ukraine as Merkel Set for Kiev Visit

Aug 23, 2014 4:26 am ET

(For more on the conflict in Ukraine, see EXT2.)

Aug. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Trucks that sparked international condemnation by crossing into Ukraine yesterday without authorization are returning to Russia as German Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to visit the battle-torn country.

More than 40 of the almost 300 trucks that carried what Russia says is humanitarian aid have crossed the border empty as of 10 a.m. in Kiev, Serhiy Astakhov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s border service, said by phone today. The U.S. and the European Union joined Ukraine in condemning Russia’s decision to send the convoy, which the government in Kiev called an “invasion.”

Tensions are spiking Ukraine, fractured by fighting that the United Nations says has left at least 2,000 people dead since Russia annexed Crimea in March, saying Russian speakers were threatened. Russia, which Ukraine and its allies blame for stoking the unrest, denies it’s involved in the conflict that has triggered sanctions from the U.S. and Europe.

“Ukrainians won’t ever be divided by language,” President Petro Poroshenko said today in central Kiev during the nation’s Flag Day celebrations. “We are a peaceful nation, but we are ready to pay with sweat and blood for the right to live under the Ukrainian flag.”

While Ukrainian should be the country’s only state language, the nation “shall pay respect” to its Russian- speaking members “who protect Ukraine,” he said.

The column of about 280 trucks that reached the city of Luhansk yesterday is a “flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty” and Russia risks added sanctions if it isn’t removed from the country, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said yesterday.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a website statement yesterday that Russia is acting “in complete accordance” with international law by sending its humanitarian aid through rebel-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office said in a statement on its website that it gave Ukraine a detailed explanation.

--With assistance from Volodymyr Verbyany in Kiev, Torrey Clark and Anton Doroshev in Moscow, Ian Wishart and James G. Neuger in Brussels, Patrick Donahue in Berlin, Halia Pavliva in New York, Lisa Lerer and Roger Runningen in Washington, Oliver Suess in Munich and Jake Rudnitsky in Rostov region, Russia.