Defense Department and White House officials sharply rebuked Russia for sending an alleged aid convoy into Eastern Ukraine without obtaining clearance from Ukrainian authorities. Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby called the convoy of some 280 trucks a “violation of [Ukraine’s] territorial integrity” and urged the Russian government to pull the trucks back or face “additional cost and isolation.” Kirby said he was not “prepared to speak” to whether the trucks were in fact carrying aid, but said Russia should avoid using the convoy as an excuse to cross the border. Early Friday, the Russian foreign ministry argued Kiev was delaying the convoy even though it was acting within “international humanitarian law,” reported the state-run Ria Novosti. However, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in statement that Russia is not abiding by previously agreed upon terms, that said the convoy “would constitute a humanitarian mission only” if the cargo was inspected, Ukraine granted permission, and the convoy was escorted by aid workers. Both Hayden and Kirby noted the build-up of highly capable Russian forces along Ukraine’s border. “As a result, the international community has been profoundly concerned that Russia’s actions today are nothing but a pretext for further Russian escalation of the conflict,” she said. (Kirby transcript.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.