A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian supplies to those living in war-torn eastern Ukraine crossed the border back into Russia on Saturday following what Moscow called a "successful" mission to deliver the aid, but what Ukraine called a "direct invasion" of its territory.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been monitoring movements across the border, confirmed in a statement that all 227 vehicles had left Ukraine and crossed back into Russia.
The Washington Post was reporting that Ukrainian Army officials claimed the returning trucks were carrying military supplies, but the OSCE statement notes that all the trucks returned with the "rear cargo tailgate open" and made no mention of any such cargo.
The nearly 200 supply trucks delivered food, water, medicine and other life-saving supplies to the people of Luhansk and Donestk, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry which had said it was no longer willing to hold the supplies while people suffered under a military "siege" enforced by the Ukraine Army.
Siding with the government in Kiev, both U.S. and NATO officials characterized the movement of the convoy over the border on Friday as a "violation" and warned Moscow of possible consequences for the move.
According to the New York Times on Saturday:
Russia’s decision to send the convoy across the border without an escort by the International Red Cross or final clearance from the Ukrainian government in Kiev had drawn harsh criticism. President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine called it a “flagrant violation of international law.” Another senior Ukrainian official denounced it as a “direct invasion.” And Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen of NATO, in a statement condemning the convoy’s entry, said it coincided with a “major escalation in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.”
However, as an analysis on Common Dreams by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern on Saturday points out, the responses from the West—including messages that came out of the White House on Friday—carry their own risk of further escalating the conflict in Ukraine. According to McGovern:
Before dawn broke in Washington on Saturday, “Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists” – more accurately described as federalists of southeast Ukraine who oppose last February’s coup in Kiev – unloaded desperately needed provisions from some 280 Russian trucks in Luhansk, Ukraine. The West accused those trucks of “invading” Ukraine on Friday, but it was a record short invasion; after delivering their loads of humanitarian supplies, many of the trucks promptly returned to Russia.
I happen to know what a Russian invasion looks like, and this isn’t it.
But even as the trucks returned to Russia, McGovern acknowledged, it's possible that some key dynamics in the ongoing conflict have begun to shift. He writes:
Regardless of this latest geopolitical back-and-forth, it’s clear that Moscow’s decision to send the trucks across the border marked a new stage of the civil war in Ukraine. As Putin prepares to meet with Ukrainian President Poroshenko next week in Minsk – and as NATO leaders prepare for their summit on Sept. 4 to 5 in Wales – the Kremlin has put down a marker: there are limits to the amount of suffering that Russia will let Kiev inflict on the anti-coup federalists and ethnic Russian civilians right across the border.
The Russians’ attitude seems to be that if the relief convoys can be described as an invasion of sovereign territory, so be it.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Poroshenko in Kiev on Saturday where she expressed her position that the border between Russia and eastern Ukraine must be tightened if a peace agreement was to be reached.
"There must be two sides to be successful. You cannot achieve peace on your own. I hope the talks with Russia will lead to success," Merkel said, making reference to next week's meeting between Putin and the Ukraine president.
Regarding the aid convoy itself, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports:
The humanitarian aid convoy, escorted by local militia, left Ukraine’s eastern city of Luhansk earlier in the day and reached the Russian town of Donetsk in Rostov Region.
On Friday, a Russian convoy with humanitarian aid crossed the border with Ukraine and delivered the cargo to Luhansk, the city sieged by the Ukrainian army and struggling daily without regular food supplies, water and electricity.
Over 2,000 people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured since the start of Kiev’s military operation against independence supporters in eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations.
And the Guardian adds:
The vehicles, many of them repainted military trucks, had waited at a rebel-controlled border crossing for a week as Ukrainian and Russian authorities negotiated how they would proceed to Luhansk, where intense fighting between government forces and rebels has left residents without water, electricity and communications for more than two weeks. Western leaders, who have accused Russia of supplying arms and men to the rebels, are worried that the convoy could serve as a pretext to escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), which was supposed to monitor the aid mission, did not escort the convoy after it failed to receive "sufficient security guarantees from the fighting parties", it said in a statement. But ICRC staff members were reportedly with the aid supplies in Luhansk.