Russia’s anticipated direct “humanitarian” intervention into the crisis in eastern Ukraine may soon be underway.
In a telephone call with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed that Russia will send a convoy of humanitarian aid to Ukraine in cooperation with the International Red Cross. The ICRC reportedly said that it did not coordinate with Russia and was not aware of a Kremlin plan to send a humanitarian convoy to Ukraine.
“For the past weeks, Russia has been urging Ukraine to allow it to send humanitarian aid to the residents of its eastern regions engulfed by pro-Russian insurgency, but Ukraine and the West have opposed the move,” The Daily Mail noted.
The Associated Press reported that Ukrainian officials confirmed a genuine humanitarian mission led by Russia in conjunction with the Red Cross would be heading to eastern Ukraine and has the “blessing” of the United States. A Russian spokesman said that the humanitarian mission would not be accompanied by any armed personnel or soldiers.
The Guardian reported that President Barack Obama has provided Ukrainian officials with reassurances that the humanitarian mission to Ukraine would be a peaceful one.
In a phonecall with his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, on Monday night, the US president, Barack Obama, promised to take an active part in an aid mission to the rebel-held city of Luhansk, where residents have been cut off from water and electricity amid shelling that has claimed civilian casualties.
There remains, however, reason to be skeptical of Russia’s motives.
Multiple reports indicated last week that Russian military vehicles marked with the words “peacekeeping force” had been on the move toward the border with Ukraine. NATO also warned that Russia’s United Nations ambassador indicated his country’s call for a Ukraine peacekeeping force indicates Moscow’s willingness to intervene directly in Ukraine under the guise of a humanitarian mission.
On Monday, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko warned that a Russian invasion force is positioned along the border:
“As of 11 o’clock today, about 45,000 troops of the armed forces and internal forces of the Russian Federation are concentrated in border areas,” Lysenko told a briefing.
He said they were supported by 160 tanks, 1,360 armored vehicles, 390 artillery systems, up to 150 Grad missile launchers, 192 fighter aircraft and 137 attack helicopters.
With conflict appearing imminent, the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council reportedly warned residents in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Lugansk to evacuate the area as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, in an exceedingly disturbing development flagged by The Interpreter Magazine, the Russian scientist and political commentator Andrey Piontkovsky, writing for Kasparov.ru, warned that Putin may intend to shatter NATO through provocation and believes he can use nuclear weapons with impunity in order to achieve that end.
Piontkovsky warned that Putin’s aim is “the maximum extension of the Russian World, the destruction of NATO, and the discrediting and humiliation of the US as the guarantor of the security of the West.”
To accomplish this, the Kremlin analyst wrote, the application of the Ukraine model to a NATO member state like Estonia – wherein native Russian speakers would declare independence from Tallinn – could force NATO to blink in response to what would likely be the ensuing invocation of the NATO treaty’s Article 5.
Even if NATO did respond militarily to Russian aggression, a display of maximum force from Moscow would likely force the Western powers to back down.
“Putin knows that they know that if they come to the assistance of Estonia, then Putin can respond with a very limited nuclear strike and destroy for example two European capitals,” Piontkovsky wrote. “Not London and not Paris, of course.”