The “white convoy,” as it’s become known as, is now only miles away from the Ukrainian border, but it doesn’t mean it will cross over from Russia any time soon. The 280 trucks are parked in a field waiting for politicians to decide its moves.
Ukrainian authorities are adamant about not letting the vehicles through. Even if these trucks carry food, sleeping bags and generators, they are, after all, military trucks belonging to an army that is responsible for bloodshed in the east of their country. They believe the convoy is a “Trojan horse” and under the pretense of humanitarian aid the Russians are carrying out a PR exercise to cover up their meddling in Ukrainian affairs.
Russia’s declared good intentions are questioned by Ukraine and the fact that over some stretches of its route the convoy was accompanied by several Russian military vehicles and two helicopters doesn’t put Ukrainian authorities at ease. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described it as a “provocation by a cynical aggressor” and that Ukraine will not allow it onto its territory. A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense told ABC News that late yesterday some trucks reached the border crossing of Shebienko-Pletnovka but were not let through by Ukrainian border guards. The trucks turned back without incident.
A solution that the Russians are likely to exploit is to cross into Ukraine at border posts held by pro-Russian separatists near the Lugansk region – a part of Ukraine in Russian hands. This, however, would be an admission that the rebels are controlled by Russia – something that the Kremlin has been denying all along.
The Russians have been trying to legitimize their actions by asking the Red Cross to endorse the operation. A spokesperson for the Ukrainian Security Council in Kiev told ABC News that Russia is clearly trying to buy time and no one is keen to rush into trouble. Only today the Red Cross agreed to step in and perhaps help resolve the stalemate by sending high level negotiators to Moscow and Kiev.
The “white convoy” has become a focal point, but the context in which this “humanitarian aid” operation is being carried out raises fears that President Putin’s intentions may indeed have little to do with a peaceful resolution to a problem he himself created. Russia is doing very little to de-escalate the conflict – indeed, quite the contrary, some say.
Today, President Putin chaired Russia’s Security Council session in recently annexed Crimea. He vowed to allocate $552 billion to Russia’s defense budget over the next six years. Ominously, Putin hinted that Russia had reason to intervene in Ukraine since the country was in chaos and drowning in blood. Russia, he said, would do all in its power to stop the bloodshed.
Speaking to parliamentarians, Putin dismissed Western sanctions imposed on the Kremlin by saying that they were only a beneficial stimulus and would ultimately strengthen Russian producers.