What is inside those 280 Russian 'humanitarian aid' trucks headed for the Ukraine border?
Michael Weiss has a good article in Foreign Policy about that Russian convoy of military trucks (painted white with all insignia removed) headed for the Ukraine, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians in Donetsk who are surrounded by Ukraine troops.
They are painted with Red Cross insignias. But the International Red Cross never authorized the relief effort and doesn't know what's in the trucks:
Laurent Corbaz, the head of ICRC's operations for Europe and Central Asia, issued a press statement today claiming that his organization is in the dark about what Russia is really up to. "We of course have heard of this Russian initiative," he said, "and we have realized that this was in agreement with the Russian authorities and the Ukrainian authorities that such a convoy should be a possibility, provided that ICRC could be on board. We said that we could be onboard but we needed to have some clarification first regarding the modalities, practical steps that have to be implemented prior to launch such an operation."
In other words, Putin's cooked up another game of guess-the-strategy, which has met every expectation in befuddling and distracting an international news cycle.
Clearly, the ICRC is not thrilled about being enlisted in a highly controversial and obfuscatory relief scheme fewer than 48 hours after NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen publicly stated there was a "high probability" that Russia would invade Ukraine under "the guise of a humanitarian operation." Russia still has some 20,000 troops at the Ukraine border -- 45,000 if you count the garrisons it has in illegally annexed Crimea, which Kiev certainly does. Troops, armored personnel carriers, and transport trucks are also on the move in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk, and as my colleague Pierre Vaux wrote in the Daily Beast, Ukraine recently withdrew its forces from some 60 miles of borderland, leaving it wide open to Russian incursion from multiple directions.
It also bears noting that on the night of Aug. 8, Moscow tried and failed to have another one of its "humanitarian convoys," this one accompanied by Russian military, penetrate Ukraine's frontier, stopping just short of it in what one high-ranking Ukrainian official dubbed "nearly a real disaster, nearly an invasion." It was only Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's swift "diplomatic work," in the words of his deputy chief of staff, Valeriy Chaly, that turned the Russians around. A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the story as one of Kiev's "fairy tales." It seemed nonfictional enough to Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, however, who tweeted: "Why would Russia try to deliver 'humanitarian assistance' to UA in the dead of night? If it's legitimate, shouldn't she proudly display it?"
The convoy probaby does contain relief supplies. It would be amateurish of Putin to put soldiers and weapons in them. More likely, Putin is hoping to get a response from Kiev that would give him a pretext to invade. It is going to be a very tense situation on the border in a few hours and it's easy to imagine the worst happening.
The Ukraine government says they gladly accept the aid from Russia - just as long as it isn't carried by Russian trucks crossing their border. Kiev wants the trucks to unload at the border and transfer their aid to Ukrainian trucks.
It appears that some kind of confrontation at the border will occur in the next day or so.