© Yuri Kochetkov/European Pressphoto AgencyThe Ukraine-bound convoy paused on Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Russia.
A Russian aid convoy rumbled toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, stirring fears of a direct confrontation between Russia and Ukraine after months of hands-off sparring through armed proxies between the two bitterly estranged neighbors.

Warning that Ukraine would deploy "all forces available" to halt the convoy if it refused to submit to inspection by Ukrainian border guards, Ukraine's military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, said that "any attempt to introduce any convoy without the permission of Ukraine would be considered an act of open aggression."

Comment: Let's be clear, the only people stirring fears in this situation are the Neo-Nazi's in Kiev and warmongers in Washington with a little help from propaganda rags like the New York Times.

The convoy of around 260 trucks, mostly military vehicles that had been recently spray-painted white and covered with white tarpaulins, came within miles of the Ukrainian border on Thursday but then halted its advance, turning onto a long dusty road near a Russian military base on the outskirts of the Russian town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.

Ukraine and its Western allies have cast a mistrustful eye on the Russian mission from the start, regarding it more as a cynical ploy to help beleaguered rebel forces stave off defeat and thus extend a war that they say the Kremlin itself has covertly stoked, and is the primary cause of the humanitarian crisis that the aid convoy is supposed to relieve.

Those suspicions have deepened with Russia's latest maneuvering over the convoy, which has led some analysts in Kiev to speculate that Moscow's objective may not be to deliver arms, something it can already do with ease across a porous border, but to seed the conflict zone with Russian personnel, making it far more difficult for Ukrainian forces to complete an offensive that took on new vigor in late June after President Petro O. Poroshenko ended a unilateral cease-fire.

Comment: Yes, it's abundantly clear that the analyst in Kiev have little if any humanity and are rather confused why cities of thousands without food, water or communication would actually need aid. Some maneuvering by Russia!

Amid mounting international concern that the convoy could escalate the bloody but relatively confined civil war in eastern Ukraine into a broader conflagration, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, spoke by telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday to discuss "practical aspects" of Russia's aid effort, including security guarantees for the delivery of aid.

Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, in one of his more conciliatory speeches since the Ukraine conflict began, said Thursday in Crimea that Russia was monitoring what he called a "major humanitarian catastrophe" in eastern Ukraine. "We will do everything we can to help secure an end to this conflict as soon as possible, so that there will be no more bloodshed in Ukraine," Mr. Putin told Russian lawmakers gathered in Yalta, according to a summary of his remarks on the Kremlin website.

But Ukrainian officials reacted with fury to Mr. Putin's decision to present himself as a peacemaker while visiting Crimea. One suggested that Kiev might open a criminal case against the Russian president for "illegal entry" into Ukrainian territory.

Mr. Putin has previously made conciliatory remarks about Ukraine, only to continue what the Ukrainian government and its Western supporters have described as a steady stream of men and arms to the separatists to destabilize the country. Russia denies those accusations.

But analysts said the speech seemed to signal that Mr. Putin wanted to avoid an open military confrontation over Ukraine. "It was indirect confirmation that Russia will not intervene," said Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of a Russian foreign affairs journal.

A factor that could push Russia toward moderation is new evidence that Western sanctions are causing serious problems. Rosneft, the crown jewel of Russia's state-controlled oil industry, has asked for a $42 billion government loan to help offset the credit ban imposed by European and American banks, according to the business daily Vedomosti and other press reports.

Comment: Russia has been the only country pushing for moderation from the outset! These sanctions are not helping anyone, least of all Europe and all indication are that it will come back to bite the US. Question is how long are Europeans willing to stay on a sinking ship?

When it first announced what it described on Tuesday as a humanitarian mission to help residents of the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, Moscow said the convoy would enter Ukraine through a border crossing controlled by Ukrainian authorities near Kharkiv. But, after a daylong pause Wednesday at a Russian military base near the town of Voronezh, the convoy on Thursday veered away from Kharkiv and instead moved toward a section of the frontier largely under the control of pro-Russian rebels.

But then the convoy was diverted to the military base near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky. Once there, the trucks parked in orderly formations, supervised by hundreds of young men, many with short-cropped hair, who said they were volunteers but would not say for which organization. Each was dressed in an identical beige hat, beige T-shirt and beige shorts.

The men denied they were in the army, but most said that they had served recently. One, who tore open a tarpaulin to reveal cardboard boxes containing sleeping bags, had a tattoo of a black panther with a parachute on his right shoulder, common for members of airborne units.

The Kremlin said earlier this week that the convoy was being sent to Ukraine under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but that organization said on Thursday that it was still waiting for information from Russia about the cargo aboard the trucks. Andre Loersch, spokesman for the Red Cross in Kiev, said an agency representative managed to catch up with the convoy on Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky and had established direct contact with it for the first time.

He added: "We have so far received only general information from the Russian Federation. We need a precise list of all the items and how they are packaged." A single Red Cross representative, he said, could not possibly examine the more than 260 trucks.

A Russian journalist with a state-media organization who is embedded with the convoy said that no plans had been made for an imminent crossing into Ukraine, and that the convoy could remain at its current position for several more days. This indicated that Moscow wanted to give diplomats time to arrange terms for the convoy's peaceful passage into Ukraine and limit the risk of an armed clash with Ukrainian forces.

The fog of confusion surrounding the Russian convoy, comprising commercial vehicles and army trucks with white tarpaulins, has added a volatile new element to an already chaotic and increasingly bloody struggle for control of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are struggling to hang on to a rapidly shrinking band of territory along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.

The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that it recaptured the village of Novosvitlivka, a previously rebel-held settlement that straddles the road through which the Russian aid convoy would probably have to pass if it is to reach Luhansk.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly denounced Russia's efforts to deliver aid to Luhansk, which is still controlled by rebels, as a ruse to smuggle military supplies to the beleaguered pro-Russian separatist cause. A New York Times correspondent traveling with the convoy said that trucks he was allowed to view contained nothing of any potential military use.

But there was every indication that the aid convoy was under the direction of Russia's military. The trucks used are standard for the army and had recently been spray-painted white. The field where the trucks parked on Thursday stands adjacent to a military base and a warehouse for military vehicles. Two MI-8 helicopters patrolled the highway used by the convoy, and military patrols guarded intersections between the highway and roads leading to the west toward Ukraine.

In a statement released late Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry called for "an immediate cease-fire" by Ukrainian and rebel forces, saying that "this is necessary to guarantee safety of the upcoming humanitarian action."

A pause in fighting would also help pro-Russian rebels avoid a looming defeat that would be politically risky for Mr. Putin, as it would leave him open to criticism from increasingly vociferous Russian nationalists who cheered the annexation of Crimea but have become disenchanted with the Kremlin's failure to intervene more decisively to bolster the separatists.

The Ukrainian military has made steady progress in recent weeks, with Mr. Lysenko, the military spokesman, asserting on Thursday that territory controlled by the rebels had shrunk to a fifth the size of what it was earlier this year. He also said the rebel leadership faced growing disarray in its ranks, a claim that was bolstered Thursday by the resignation of Igor Strelkov, one of the top separatist leaders, as "defense minister" of a rebel enclave in Donetsk.