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Russia/Ukraine: “humanitarian” convoy clouds, confuses and complicates…

August 12, 2014

Summary: A Russia humanitarian aid convoy will reach the border of Ukraine probably tonight.  No one is sure whether this is a genuine attempt to assist (less likely) or a further attempt by the Putin regime to distort, provoke, pressurise or subvert in some way (more likely).  At worst it could be some form of further military intervention…

Meaning what, exactly?

Meaning what, exactly?

Amongst much internet and media chatter, Russia appears to be sending a 280-truck convoy full of humanitarian aid towards (and presumably across) the Russo-Ukrainian border into the Ukraine:

12 August, Financial Times: As 280 lorries made their way from a military base near Moscow towards the Ukrainian border, some Russian internet users passed around photos of the convoy as it was sighted along the route. Others shared video clips of the Trojan Rabbit, the Monty Python episode involving King Arthur and his knights trying to cheat their way into a French castle.

Confusion, fear and satire followed the convoy as it made its way to the border. Russia says it carries humanitarian aid for the tormented residents of Ukraine; Kiev and most western governments suspect Moscow is plotting a Trojan Horse to trigger or conceal a military intervention.

Russian bloggers are more or less plotting the route from Moscow towards Kharkov live with a series of geo-located video clips.  As you can see, the trucks are painted white and flying the Red Cross.  Footage at the beginning of the convoy’s journey showed inside the vehicles and water, food, blankets and sleeping bags all visible, but the Red Cross have no idea what is in the vehicles and there is little clarity whether the Red Cross or the Ukrainian government actually approve this convoy at all.

12 August, Daily Telegraph: Ukraine has said it will not allow a mammoth Russian convoy reportedly carrying aid for the war-torn east to enter its territory and that any assistance should be handed over at the border.

“We will not consider the possibility of any movement of the Russian column on the territory of Ukraine,” said Valeriy Chalyy, deputy head of the presidential administration, adding that any aid would have to be loaded onto transport provided by the Red Cross and that no Russian personnel would be allowed to escort it.

People have been calling “invasion imminent” for some while now, particularly after the exercises of 10,000-20,000 Russian troops over the last couple of weeks.  I still struggle to believe that such a highly telegraphed manouvre as a humanitarian convoy will be a military trigger.  But it could be a distraction or it could be the first in a series of similar activities that might slowly lead to more efforts to develop influence inside eastern Ukraine.  One report says that other Russian military movements are now taking place in Belarus, directly to the north of Kiev, however:

The Interpreter:Russian Armored Convoys On The Move In Belarus

Over the last several days there has been a significant uptick in Russian troop movements on the move in Belarus. This video, reportedly taken today in Vitebsk, shows troops, transport trucks, and armored-personnel carriers moving through the city. The city is due north of Kiev:
This video…reportedly shows a massive armored convoy iin Novoshakhtinsk, Rostov region of Russia,  on August 10th. The geolocation is done in the actual video…The point, which we will be illustrating in depth in a later update, is that Russia is deploying and mobilizing forces near multiple border crossings, in every direction of the fighting in eastern Ukraine, but also in regions (and even other countries) that are further away but still within striking distance of Ukraine within hours or days. Russia could easily put troops into Ukraine west of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, perhaps in Kharkiv, or even Kiev, and they could do this nearly as easily as they could put troops into Lugansk or Donetsk.
Vladimir Putin is, at the very least, seizing the media initiaitive in an impressive style – everyone is dancing to the beat of his new story.  But this is getting tiresome.  To put it crudely, will he take it to the next level or is he as much in the dark about what to do next as everyone else is?  Something will have to give soon:

“No state or regime goes to war firmly convinced that it will lose it,” Andrey Piontkovsky says, and Vladimir Putin is no exception: if he goes to war with NATO and even if he escalates that conflict by using nuclear weapons, he will be acting on the basis of a belief that he can win it.

That belief, the Russian commentator says, is based on Putin’s assumption that the logic of mutually assured destruction (MAD) which prevented a major war between Russia and the West has broken down because of divisions within the West about how to respond to Russian use of a limited nuclear strike.

Piontkovsky does not provide direct evidence for this, but his argument is both suggestive and disturbing because if he has read Putin correctly, the world is in a far more dangerous situation than most have thought and the risks to Russia’s neighbors, the West and Russia itself are far greater…

Putin’s actions would be “revenge for the defeat of the USSR in the third (cold) world war just as the second world war was for Germany an attempt at revenge for defeat in the first.”

If the Russian speakers of Narva in Estonia were to conduct a referendum and Moscow sent in its forces overtly or covertly, how might NATO react? Piontkovsky asks. If NATO did not respond, “that would mean the end of NATO and the end of the US as a world power and the complete political dominance of Putin’s Russia not only in the area of the Russian World but in the entire European continent.”

I guess we will find out tomorrow.  Or maybe not.

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