YEVPATORIA, Crimea — Hundreds of Russian military trucks painted white began driving across the Ukrainian border on Friday.
NATO was quick to condemn the move: “This is a blatant breach of Russia’s international commitments, including those made recently in Berlin and Geneva, and a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia,” said Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The move is “even more worrying,” he said, because Russian artillery attacks on and in Ukraine have gone on for several weeks.
The European Union called for Russia to revoke its decision and turn back. But once again Russia ignored international norms, procedures and agreements. The head of SBU, Ukraine’s security service, Valentin Nalyvaichenko, called the trucks’ crossing a “direct invasion” in an official statement.
The question now is whether the provocation will result in a widening war, or continue and intensify the semi-covert operations that appear to fit Moscow’s long-standing practice of carving off territories and installing client governments in parts of former Soviet republics: Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.
Back in Russia even independent experts disagreed with the word “invasion.” Military analyst Alexander Golts told The Daily Beast on Friday that the humanitarian convoy “violated Ukrainian sovereignty, but the convoy driving in could not be considered an invasion.”
There is no international control of the Russian trucks moving around Ukraine: The Kremlin’s original intention to have the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accompany the humanitarian convoy seemed forgotten.
Why did Moscow take such a step before the start of peacemaking talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, planned for next week? “The Kremlin is using this strategic timeframe to give rebels a chance to regroup, provide them with more weapons and fuel, since it’s obvious the Ukrainian army won’t attack while the convoy drives in,” said Golts. On Friday afternoon SBU director Nalivaichenko confirmed that the Ukrainian military “would not be involved in this provocation” and would avoid using force against Russia’s white convoy.
By 5:30 p.m. about 145 Russian trucks bringing food, electrical generators, drinking water, and medicine had entered the territory of Ukraine without any Ukrainian custom control papers and had reached the eastern city of Luhansk, which has suffered the greated privations because of the Ukrainian government siege targeting rebels there.
Ukrainian authorities said that neither government officials nor the ICRC had inspected the 90 trucks that arrived in Luhansk. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on Friday that said the trucks crossed the border because “the endless delays hampering the initial deliveries of the Russian humanitarian relief aid to southeastern Ukraine have become intolerable.”
The reason the Kremlin turned the chessboard around again is that few in Moscow believe presidents Putin and Poroshenko can make a peace deal at their planned meeting on August 26 in Minsk. Putin is not in a position to “leave Donbass [eastern Ukraine] in trouble,” rebel official Igor Druz told The Daily Beast. “If Putin loses in Donbass, he will lose his own power in Moscow. “
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is blaming Kiev for trying the Kremlin’s patience. Ukrainian authorities were “repeatedly inventing new pretexts and stepping up attacks on Luhansk and Donetsk that involve military aircraft and heavy-duty armored vehicles, targeting residential areas and other civilian facilities,” the statement said.
Russia is no longer trying to hide the fact that the Kremlin is directly involved and supporting separatist leaders in Ukraine. As they sent tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Russian officials openly acted in concert with Ukrainian rebels. Militia from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) accompanied the white trucks sent from Moscow and even built checkpoints for the “humanitarian corridor.”
Helping Ukraine to solve its conflict with Russia is going to be a big challenge for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who arrives in Ukraine on the eve of Ukrainian Independence Day on Saturday, as well as for other Western leaders supporting Ukraine’s diplomacy. After the U.N. Security Council refused to adopt the Russian text for the ceasefire on Friday, Russian diplomats blamed the United States for being “cynical” and neglecting humanitarian needs in the war zone. “We have no doubts left that Washington’s goal is to continue armed confrontations in eastern Ukraine,” said a Russian statement.
The war that has ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands Ukrainians will continue until Moscow achieves its goal, Golst said: “to freeze the conflict” in eastern Ukraine, so it will become a chronic confrontation between Russia and Western allies similar to the separatist states of Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, where most of the residents have Russian passports.