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Opinion

Opinion: Russia's deceptive game with Ukraine's woes

Ukraine has good reasons why it won't allow a Russian aid convoy into the country. Moscow appears to refuse cooperation even on humanitarian issues, DW's Bernd Johann says.

The people in Ukraine's embattled regions need help. Bread, water and medicine are getting scarce. It looks like neither of the conflict parties wants to end the war at this point. That makes a coordinated international aid mission even more urgent, a mission that should include as many states as possible.

But Russia is pressing ahead. Single-handedly, the Kremlin launched an aid convoy headed to Ukraine, leaving other countries and the International Red Cross, which is responsible for the coordination of international aid missions, in the dark about the details of its scheme. Kyiv and the West fear a possible Russian intervention in Ukraine under the guise of humanitarian aid, and they are right to be concerned.

Gambling away credibility

Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann: "Their fears are justified"

Unfortunately, past experience shows just how justified suspicion of Moscow is. Too many times, Russia has given not only Ukraine, but the entire international community the runaround in this conflict. At the start of the crisis in March of 2014, the Kremlin claimed that there was no Russian military in Crimea. Shortly afterwards, Moscow had annexed the peninsula. Even President Vladimir Putin admitted taking power in Crimea with the help of the Russian military.

In eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin only speaks of local insurgents rebelling against the government in Kyiv. But many fighters and even leaders of violence-prone groups come from Russia. And it's not like they are trying to hide that fact. Their weapons and ammunition are from Russia. Moscow allowed tanks, artillery and rockets to cross the border with Ukraine, despite thousands of Russian soldiers stationed there, who could have prevented the move.

Real aid is welcome

It's no surprise that Russia's approach prompts concern. Accordingly, Ukraine doesn't want to let the convoy cross the border. Kyiv demands international monitoring of the shipment under the aegis of an aid organization. The European Union and other Western countries also warn of a Russian solo mission.

Aid is welcome in Ukraine, but a convoy of 300 Russian trucks is not. The convoy could be bringing food, but it could also be carrying fresh supplies for the separatist groups in the war zone.

As far as the Ukrainians are concerned, Russia is to blame for the war in the eastern part of the country. Certainly, people in the region would have been spared a lot of suffering without Russian intervention in Ukraine. If Russia really wanted to help, it would stop supporting armed groups in eastern Ukraine.

Smoke screens instead of cooperation

Instead, Russia might just be playing a deceptive game with the aid. The true aim of the maneuver is unclear. The Kremlin claimed the campaign was coordinated with Ukraine. Kyiv denied the claim. Then there were claims of an agreement with the International Red Cross, denied by a spokesman for the aid organization. That leaves the impression that Moscow isn't interested in speedy help for people in need, but in political orchestration.

Germany and other countries are lobbying for an end to the violence in eastern Ukraine. They want to help the people in the region. If that is Russia's aim as well, it should disclose its goals in Ukraine and sit down to negotiate with Kyiv and the EU. Instead, Russia refuses international cooperation on Ukraine – and now, possibly, on humanitarian aid.

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