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Ukraine

Aid Convoy Commentary: Russian Gamblers

Russia is using its aid convoy as a provocation. Arbitrary Russian actions only days before planned crisis talks in Minsk are an affront, and not only against Ukraine, Bernd Johann writes.

Russia isn't playing by international rules anymore. In the midst of the ongoing customs checks, and against the background of numerous international efforts to de-escalate the conflict, Russia has ordered its aid convoy into rebel-held areas of Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian border officials were summarily forced out by Russian soldiers. Even representatives of the Red Cross, who were supposed to accompany and inspect the convoy were ignored.

This is a clear violation of international law. Russia doesn't respect national borders in Europe any more. That was already made clear in Crimea. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has even ignored agreements which it had just made. Russia used to be in a dialog with Ukraine and the Red Cross. However that doesn't interest the Kremlin anymore, a large and renowned aid organization like the Red Cross can simply be shoved aside.

Bad Omen for Minsk

Politically, the assessment is clear: A gambler is agitating, and proceeding recklessly at great risk to everyone involved. On Saturday (23.08.2014) Chancellor Angela Merkel will plead in Kyiv for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Already in a few short days, Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and other nations will meet in the Belarusian capital of Minsk to attempt to reduce tensions stemming from the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The question of international aid will also be on the agenda. However Russia is currently pressing ahead, thus showing how little regard it has for current diplomatic efforts. One has to get the impression that Russia isn't interested in relaxing the situation. That is conceivably a bad omen for the talks in Minsk and also for Merkel's visit to Kyiv.

Despite the flap, until now Ukraine has reacted calmly. Ukraine admittedly used a sharp word, “invasion,” against Moscow, but it also announced it would take no action against the convoy. The separatists will soon receive the trucks, and it is for them which the help from Moscow is intended. Hopefully these people will actually give the cargo to all the people in the region, and not only to those in their entourage. International inspections of the distribution of the cargo is now unfortunately no longer possible and that is probably fine with both the fighters in eastern Ukraine as well as Russia.

A Convoy as production

From the beginning, this convoy was a great production. As there were no Russian cities in the area near Ukraine, the trucks drove out of the vicinity of Moscow and through half of Russia. All day long, Russian TV crews filmed the convoy on the road. Then it stood at the border. Ukraine and the Red Cross wanted and needed understandably to inspect the contents of the cargo. It lasted until Russia made a view into the storage areas possible. Furthermore, the trucks drove not to the agreed-upon border crossing near Kharkiv, but to a place where no regular freight handling is possible, except by the separatists on the Ukrainian side of the border.

Whoever truly wants to help people will organize this aid quickly and bind all sides comprehensively together. Moscow has done just the opposite in this case. The aid convoy served and continues to serve as propaganda instrument. The message is clear: evil Ukrainians are blocking aid from good Russians. At the same time Russia denies that every day Russian weapons and fighters are succeeding in crossing the border into the Ukraine. The convoy has finally crossed unhindered into Ukraine on the same path. It's hard to think of a more cynical way to stage an “aid” mission.

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