Over 70 vehicles from a stalled Russian aid convoy crossed into eastern Ukraine on Friday — a move that was swiftly met with an escalation of threats from Ukraine and NATO, including charges that the entry constitutes an "invasion."
The convoy of more than 270 trucks has been stuck at the border for more than a week after Russia was accused by Ukraine, the United States, and other Western governments of using the vehicles as a "Trojan horse" to support an alleged ground invasion or back armed groups battling with Ukrainian forces. But Russia insists the trucks in fact carry humanitarian aid—including power generators, food, and drinking water—for the people of the embattled region of Luhansk.
"If U.S. and Western governments have evidence that indicates this is not a legitimate aid convoy, they should make it public. Assuming the worst in this situation is essentially giving license to the Ukrainian government to escalate." –Prof. Stephen ZunesTo date, no evidence has been presented publicly that contradicts claims that the vehicles transport aid supplies, and several of the vehicles were inspected by Ukrainian border and customs officials last week.
Following a declaration from Russia's foreign ministry that the convoy "could not wait any longer," the vehicles crossed Friday at an area of the border under the control of armed opponents of the Ukrainian government. Kiev says the convoy did so without the consent of the Ukrainian government.
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In the immediate aftermath of the border crossing, Ukraine and its Western allies unleashed a barrage of threats. Valentin Nalyvaichenko, who heads Ukraine's security service, stated that the act constitutes a "direct invasion." NATO condemned the move on Friday, slamming Russia for "a blatant breach of Russia’s international commitments" and insinuating that the convoy may not carry humanitarian goods. Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesperson strongly condemned the decision to move the convoy and issued a vague threat to Russia that it will face "costs" if it does not withdraw immediately.
Russia's Foreign ministry on Friday, meanwhile, declared that any attack on the convoy would constitute a criminal act.
Critics warn that heightened rhetoric from the West obscures the role that Ukraine, the U.S., and their allies have played in stoking the current violence and militarization of the region and reviving Cold War divisions.
Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told Common Dreams, "If U.S. and Western governments have evidence that indicates this is not a legitimate aid convoy, they should make it public. Assuming the worst in this situation is essentially giving license to the Ukrainian government to escalate."