People are right to be sceptical of Moscow's aid convoy to eastern Ukraine because Russia has previously been "stirring up a world of trouble" inside its neighbour's borders, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
With a theatrical flourish on Tuesday, local time, Russia dispatched hundreds of trucks covered in white tarps and sprinkled with holy water on a mission to deliver the aid to the desperate rebel-held zone.
The televised sight of the kilometres-long convoy sparked a show of indignation from the government in Kiev, which insisted any aid must be delivered by the international Red Cross.
Ukraine and the West have openly expressed concern that Moscow intends to use the cover of a humanitarian operation to embark on a military incursion in support of pro-Russian separatists.
Russia claims the 280 trucks will deliver aid to the rebel-controlled territory after an agreement was reached with Kiev. But Mr Abbott isn't convinced everything is above board.
"We should be sceptical of Russia's intentions because plainly Russia has been stirring up a world of trouble in eastern Ukraine for many, many months now," the PM told reporters in London.
"All of us are in favour of humanitarian assistance but no one wants to see what is effectively an invasion under cover of a humanitarian convoy."
Mr Abbott said if the trucks really were delivering aid, Moscow had to talk to Kiev and work out an acceptable arrangement with the Ukrainian government.
An Orthodox priest in Ukraine demands sanctions against Russia. Photo / AP
Russia insisted the route of its large aid shipment had been agreed with Kiev and the convoy would be met by the Red Cross after crossing the border.
"The delivery will be done via a border crossing agreed by Russia and Ukraine" near the Russian town of Shebekino, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
"After crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border, the column will continue under supervision of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC)," it said.
But officials with both the ICRC and Ukraine's government said they had no information about what the trucks were carrying or where they were headed.
Parents of missing passenger Fatima Dyczynski sit on MH17 wreckage. Photo / AP
Mr Abbott has blamed Russian-backed rebels for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in mid-July.
At least two New Zealanders and 38 Australian residents died in the disaster.
The Australian PM again insisted it was too early to say if Russian President Vladimir Putin would be welcome at November's G20 meeting in Brisbane.
"It's still three months to go before the G20 and my hope is that the response to what Russia has been doing in eastern Ukraine recently may have persuaded President Putin that the costs of his policy are too high and the risk of complete isolation is too great," Mr Abbott said.
- AAP / AP