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Russian convoys into Ukraine – at least 30 and counting

June 26, 2015

Summary: as ever, Russian activity inside Ukraine may not be all that it seems

hiding in plain sight...

hiding in plain sight…

I am working through two very interesting papers at present:

Both papers expose in very clear, compelling, authoritative and evidence-based style the extent of covert/accidentally overt Russian political and military involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Last year there was a lot of excitement and speculation about a Russian convoy of trucks that were to enter Ukraine ostensibly to provide food, blankets, tents and other civilian humanitarian supplies for displaced people in the combat areas.  There was confusion – much of this deliberate, I suspect – over the real intentions and whether this was an official Red Cross event or an operation controlled by the Russian government.  The story sucked up lot of media interest in the aftermath of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner Flight MH17.  There were a range of possible explanations for the convoy, stretching from genuine neutral assistance, through a timely media distraction after MH17 to support for military operations.  Casting around for explanations for the convoy at the time, I suggested, (amongst 6 possible scenarios) that simply establishing the principle of entry – that Russian vehicles could come and go across Ukraine’s border at will – could be helpful to the Russian cause.

Exciting media stories can quickly become routine, normalised and less valuable for copy.  Sometimes they may be even deliberately designed that way.  Either that or shame on me for not keeping better track of this issue.  Establishing the normality of large numbers of Russian vehicles passing into Ukraine seems to have become routine.  I see from the OSCE spot reports that the 30th Russian convoy crossed into Ukrainian territory yesterday, the 25th June 2015:

Spot Report by OSCE OM: A thirtieth Russian convoy of 47 vehicles crossed into Ukraine and returned back through the Donetsk Border Crossing Point

SUMMARY

On 25 June 2015 at 06:50hrs (Moscow time), a Russian convoy arrived at the Donetsk Border Crossing Point (BCP). A total of 47 vehicles were checked by the Russian border guard and customs services. All the vehicles had crossed back into the Russian Federation by 16:31hrs on 25 June.

***

DETAIL

Leaving the Russian Federation

On 25 June 2015 at 06:50hrs, the Observer Mission observed the arrival of a Russian convoy at the gate of the Donetsk BCP. The Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations team led the process of the convoy movement. The convoy consisted of 40 cargo trucks and 7 support vehicles. With the exception of one vehicle (refrigerated truck), all the 40 cargo trucks displayed the Russian national flag and bore the inscription “Humanitarian help from the Russian Federation”.

All the vehicles stopped at the customs control area and lined up in three lines, the backdoors of all of the cargo trucks were opened and visually checked from outside by Russian border guards and customs officers. One service dog was used by Russian border guards to check most of the cargo trucks. Ukrainian officers –­ three border guards and one customs officer – were present during the check. They performed visual observation of the opened trucks from the outside with Russian border guards. By 07:40hrs all vehicles had left the BCP towards Ukraine.

Returning to the Russian Federation

At 14:15hrs on 25 June, the convoy arrived and lined up at the customs area. The backdoors of the trucks were opened and Russian border guards and customs officers visually checked the returning convoy. Ukrainian officers – three border guards and one customs officer ­– visually checked the returning convoy. One service dog was used to check some of the cargo trucks. The returning convoy consisted of two waves: the first part, consisting of 42 vehicles, arrived at 14:15hrs and left the BCP at 14:37hrs; the second part, consisting of five vehicles, arrived at 16:22 and left at 16:31hrs. By 16:31 hrs, all 47 vehicles had returned and crossed back into the Russian Federation.

The Russian state-run media service “Sputnik” stated that yesterday saw the “31st” convoy entering the Donbass.  I am not sure why there is a discrepancy.  The OSCE provide daily situation reports from their Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) which give useful insights into the realities of the “ceasefire”.  I think it unlikely that routine transporting of Russian military equipment or similar is underway with these convoys – it seems that the Ukrainians are inspecting the contents of trucks in some way, according to their Observer Mission report.

But who knows what might turn up one day, now the principle of large cross-border Russian vehicular movements (they seem to be once a week on average) has been established?  Although it appears that Ukrainian border officials were on hand to inspect in some way the contents of convoy 30, according to the OSCE, the 29th convoy crossed into Ukraine without the presence of Ukrainian officials.  Ukrainians were reportedly present for convoy 28 and 27.

But perhaps the contents of the convoy is a distraction?  It might be more about the personnel associated with the convoy and not the convoy per se.  “Putin. War”, at page 27, in chapter 5 “Volunteers or Mercenaries?”, points quite clearly to the use of the convoys for military purposes at least on some occasions:

Yefimov [director of a veterans’ foundation and a Special Forces soldier in the Sverdlovsk Region] confirmed that one of the means used to send Russian [citizen] fighters to Ukrainian territory is the so-called “humanitarian operations.” Essentially he is saying that the military invasion is carried out under the guise of humanitarian deliveries.

“The first time they went under the guise of the Red Cross. They received papers from the local department explaining that we were the escort. When we arrived, those people then remained. They were given weapons and combat assignments. Now we are also loading guys into the humanitarian aid trucks and sending them,”

Well, whatever may or may not be going on, the trips are now “normalised”.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2015 7:49 pm

    And let’s not forget the Russian Emergencies Ministry flying “humanitarian aid” into eastern Ukraine – http://bit.ly/1eMJCiv. And yes, the current Russian Minister of Defence was the first Minister in charge of EMERCOM.

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