The story of Russia’s “humanitarian convoy” has surprised, angered and frightened many Ukrainians.
There is a lot of conflicting information. In my view, the “humanitarian convoy” remains an element of a public relations war rather than a real one. Putin was compelled to take this step not by photos from the front but by images of grateful Ukrainians waiting in line for the distribution of sausages after the liberation of Sloviansk. Putin understood that it would be impossible to satisfy the local population for very long with false stories about “crucified little boys.”
This is what my sources in the Presidential Administration tell me:
1. For Putin, the humanitarian convoy is a PR project for internal Russian consumption that also targets the loyal supporters of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.”
2. Ukraine will be ready to let the convoy through as part of an informal dialogue with Putin. The format required for this hypothetical accommodation is one calling not for mutual destruction but for concessions that would allow both parties to save face. In the case of Putin’s convoy, this is a case of “saving” his face, and Ukraine informally is supposed to play along.
3. The convoy story is to some extent also a provocation for Putin — he would be happy for the white cars to be shelled in order to demonstrate the uncivilized behavior of Ukrainian military.
4. There are no weapons or military inside the KAMAZ trucks because that would make no sense. Putin can supply endless quantities of equipment and people across the border areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that are not under Ukrainian control. However, if a spot check of the convoy should discover any weapons, this would be another worldwide scandal that Putin does not need after the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines airliner.
Comparisons have been made between Putin’s convoy and the “Freedom Flotilla.” However, the situations are quite different. At that time the Gaza was completely blockaded, whereas the Luhansk Oblast shares a huge common border with Russia that is not under Kyiv’s control. Through this border terrorists can be supplied with anything they want — even nuclear weapons.
5. The earlier plan calling for the convoy to pass through the Kharkiv Oblast, which had been agreed on with Leonid Kuchma (in the tripartite contact group), was rejected due to the risk of provocations — possible firing on the vehicles on territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. For this reason, the convoy will pass through territory controlled by the separatists to avoid giving the Russian propaganda machine yet another pretext.
What should Ukraine do given the circumstances? It seems it will have to agree to the “humanitarian convoy” to avoid being accused of provoking a humanitarian disaster. However, any handling of the cargo must occur in the presence of international observers.
As a true KGB man, Putin has come up with a new “scam” on an international scale, whereby he attempts to draw attention from matters that are inconvenient for him — both domestically (third-stage level international sanctions, food restrictions, Wi-Fi passport requirements) and internationally (downed plane). And he has succeeded.by Serhiy Leshchenko
Translated by Anna Mostovych