US warns Russia against using aid as pretext to invade Ukraine

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The United States warned Russia Friday against using the humanitarian crisis in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for an invasion, saying such a move would be "completely unacceptable."

US Ambassador Samantha Power also told the UN Security Council that international aid agencies were on the ground and ready to help civilians fleeing fighting between pro-Moscow rebels and Ukrainian forces.

"Any further unilateral intervention by Russia in Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming and would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine," Washington's envoy said.

The warning came after Russia proposed setting up humanitarian corridors to come to the aid of civilians in east Ukraine who are fleeing violence as Kiev's forces battle to re-take the main city of Donetsk.

"Urgent humanitarian assistance should be delivered by the international organizations that have the expertise, experience and independence to provide it. It should not be delivered by Russia," Power said.

Power likened the situation in the region with the 2008 crisis in South Ossetia, when Russia justified sending troops into the Georgian territory in response to civilian suffering.

The United States and other Western countries accuse Russia of backing the separatists fighting Kiev. Moscow denies the charge.

The conflict has left at least 1,300 people dead and driven 285,000 from their homes over the past four months.