The Ukrainian government is understandably apprehensive about a convoy of 280 Russian trucks on its way seemingly from a military base near Moscow, allegedly to deliver some 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the ever-decreasing area of eastern Ukraine under the control of Moscow-backed rebels. Ukraine is gradually retaking its own territory from opposition forces, and as part of that it has been surrounding some cities, such as Lugansk. Humanitarian aid to civilians in those areas would be welcome. But is Moscow going to use the convoy to rearm its proxy army? To send in an invasion force under the guise of “peacekeepers”? To find some novel way of making trouble and violating its neighbour’s sovereignty? Even a horrendous traffic jam at the border, as result of disputes, could be a major propaganda victory for Moscow, and a pretext to more aggressive moves.
Kiev is willing to accept the aid – but it wants the aid to go through proper border checks, and for the cargo to be transferred from Russian trucks to those under the control of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Kiev is right. As for the Red Cross, it has demanded that Russia supply a list of specifics of the contents of the convoy. As of Tuesday evening, the Russian government had not done so.
The Russian Emergency Ministry insists it has organized the convoy, but video and photos show that many of the truck crews look like soldiers. The trucks look as if they have been hastily covered in white.
First Russia carved off Crimea, an internationally recognized part of Ukraine. Then it sponsored militias to seize control of other parts of the country. At times it has threatened invasion. Now, it claims to just want to help. Please. Kiev is right to reject the unsupervised entry of a giant fleet of Kremlin-dispatched trucks. If there is to be any humanitarian mission, the Red Cross must be in firm, unambiguous control.