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Is Ukraine Being Invaded By An Aid Convoy?

Russian aid trucks have entered Ukrainian territory, leading to claims Ukraine is on the verge of being invaded by its powerful neighbor.

Is Ukraine Being Invaded By An Aid Convoy?
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Russian trucks that had been parked at the Ukrainian border for weeks crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday, sparking claims that a Russian invasion had just begun.  

"Today President Putin said he'd lost patience and he just ordered them all to go across, accompanied by rebel fighters. Now Ukraine says this amounts to an invasion." 

So what is it about these 260 trucks, which Russia claims are meant to deliver relief to the war-torn region, that's making Ukraine so angry? (Video via Euronews)

Well, for one thing, many of them are empty: "The one thing that strikes me about these vehicles is how empty they are. Look, there are some boxes there. Again, I don't know what they are. But this lorry is almost empty."

And for another thing, the convoy is being sent to the city of Luhansk, a separatist stronghold that Ukrainian forces are on the verge of recapturing. 

The loss of Luhansk would humiliate Putin, who has promised to protect Russian people outside of Russia's borders. 

So why do the trucks matter? 

The New York Times thinks they're Putin's gambit to keep the city, speculating that "Spreading the conspicuously large, white aid trucks through Luhansk could effectively impose a cease-fire." 

It's a plan that so far seems to be working: An aid to Ukrainian President Poroshenko said "They expect us to attack the convoy ... it is easy to shoot but the consequences would be very destructive."

In lieu of a Ukrainian military response, the attacks against the convoy have thus far been verbal. 

The Obama administration, which has already imposed damaging sanctions on Russia, warned more could follow from their latest action. (Video via PBS

"...take the opportunity to remove this convoy from within Ukraine. If they don't, they will face additional costs and consequences from the United States and our partners in the international community."

And the Secretary-General of NATO had a similar message for Russia, saying "I condemn the entry of a Russian so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian authorities."

Russian officials, meanwhile, said they were simply tired of waiting on approval from Ukraine. They accused Kiev of working "to undermine this very important humanitarian mission."

But it's not hard to see why Ukraine would be skeptical of Russian aid: The country has been helping the rebels for months — and is becoming more open about its opposition to Ukrainian operations in eastern Ukraine. 

On the same day the convoy began its trek to Luhansk, TIME reported Russian artillery had crossed into Ukraine and fired on the Ukrainian military

“Direct Russian involvement, not just assisting pro-Russian separatist, but direct Russian involvement, that is dangerous." 

If true, it would mark a stunning escalation of tensions between Ukraine and Russia — and make it even harder to deliver real aid to the 400,00 citizens of Luhansk who have gone weeks without water or power. 

This video contains images from Getty Images and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland/CC BY-NC 2.0