Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists unloaded desperately needed provisions from some 280 Russian trucks in Luhansk, Ukraine. After delivering their loads of humanitarian supplies, many of the trucks promptly returned to Russia.
Despite the fury expressed by U.S. and NATO officials about Russia’s unilateral delivery of the supplies after weeks of frustrating negotiations with Ukrainian authorities, there was clearly a humanitarian need. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team that visited Luhansk on Aug. 21 to make arrangements for the delivery of aid found water and electricity supplies cut off because of damage to essential infrastructure. Laurent Corbaz, ICRC head of operations for Europe and Central Asia, reported “an urgent need for essentials like food and medical supplies.”
The ICRC stated that it had “taken all necessary administrative and preparatory steps for the passage of the Russian convoy,” and that, “pending customs checks,” the organization was “therefore ready to deliver the aid to Luhansk … provided assurances of safe passage are respected.”
The “safe passage” requirement, however, was the Catch-22. Kiev and its Western supporters have resisted a ceasefire or a political settlement until the federalists lay down their arms and surrender. The Ukrainian army has also been directing artillery fire into the city in an effort to dislodge the ethnic Russian federalists.
Accusing the West of repeatedly blocking a “humanitarian armistice,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement cited both Kiev’s obstructionist diplomacy and “much more intensive bombardment of Luhansk” on Aug. 21, the day after some progress had been made on the ground regarding customs clearance and border control procedures: “In other words, the Ukrainian authorities are bombing the destination [Luhansk] and are using this as a pretext to stop the delivery of humanitarian relief aid.”
Referring to these “intolerable” delays and “endless artificial demands and pretexts,” the Foreign Ministry said, “The Russian side has decided to act. … Those who are ready to continue sacrificing human lives to their own ambitions and geopolitical designs and are rudely trampling on the norms and principles of international humanitarian law will assume complete responsibility for the possible consequences of provocations against the humanitarian relief convoy.”
During a press conference at the UN on Friday, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin claimed that 59 Ukrainian inspectors had been looking through the trucks on the Russian side of the border, and also that media representatives had been able to choose for themselves which trucks to examine.
[Excerpts of article by Ray McGovern, former US Army officer and CIA analyst]