Ukraine is concerned that Russia may ignore conditions for humanitarian aid stipulated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva. Red Cross officials have outlined conditions for humanitarian aid to be delivered after holding conversations with leaders in Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the European Union. Russia has been pushing for humanitarian aid, but Ukraine and Western leaders fear that Russia will use the assistance as an excuse to resupply pro-Russian rebels. The pro-Russian rebels are now mainly cut off from the Russian border after being surrounded by the Ukrainian military.
There is precedent for Ukraine’s fear of Russia using humanitarian aid as a cover to insert armed “peacekeepers.” It would not be the first time that Russia has moved troops into former Soviet republics that have attempted to move out of Moscow’s orbit. In spite of objections from Georgia, Russia stationed troops in areas of Georgia prior to the war between the two countries in 2008. Today, Russian forces remain in a breakaway province of Moldova, despite Moldova’s insistence that they be withdrawn.
Just days ago, Russian forces along the border with Ukraine attempted to escort a so-called “humanitarian” convoy, but were stopped via diplomatic channels before crossing into Ukraine. Except in cases sanctioned by the United Nations, international law prohibits entering the borders of another country for humanitarian purposes without permission from the host country. Previously, Russian president Vladimir Putin had stated that he was sending an aid convoy accompanied by armed troops, ignoring Ukraine’s warning that it would be viewed as an invasion.
All sides agree that aid is needed in eastern Ukraine. Several hundred thousand homes are without electricity and other basic utility services. Food supplies are running dangerously low as grocery store shelves are empty, clean water is in short supply, and many hospitals and medical facilities have been damaged from the heavy fighting.
On Monday, Russian media began broadcasting reports from the Kremlin saying that the Red Cross had agreed to participate in a Russian-led humanitarian mission. The ICRC denied the reports, saying that their executives were still looking into available options, and waiting for Russia to return necessary documents needed prior to an agreement. Russia has not returned a key ICRC document that spells out specific terms the Russians would need to honor. Provisions in the document state that the Red Cross will agree to deliver the supplies, but without military escort.
Ukraine believes that Russia may ignore the International Red Cross conditions for aid because Red Cross policy is to coordinate such missions, as described by ICRC spokesperson Andre Loersch, with “neutrality, impartiality and independence.” The ICRC documents highlight the strict guidelines that must be upheld in order to guarantee the neutrality of the Red Cross.
The U.S. signaled approval for the Red Cross plan after president Barack Obama spoke with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko. European Commission president Jose Barroso spoke by phone with Russian president Vladimir Putin, who agreed to participate. Loersch says they will wait on organizing such a convoy until all sides have formally agreed that “the Red Cross does not accept armed escorts.”
According to the Kyiv Post, a senior Ukrainian official told reporters that Russia could participate, but “there will be no Russian forces.” NATO’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters that none of the Russian troops had been pulled back from the Ukrainian border, and when asked if there might be a Russian military intervention, Rasmussen rated the probability as high. He told reporters that NATO sees the possibility of a Russian invasion done under the guise of a humanitarian operation.
Meanwhile, government-controlled media services in Russia are reporting that 280 large trucks filled with aid are headed from Russia towards Ukraine. Reports on Twitter and Russian language social media sites include sightings and photos of a large convoy of repainted trucks belonging to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. The trucks were seen driving Monday on the MKAD, Moscow’s Ring road, leaving the city. The ICRC spokesman said that his organization has no information about the trucks or where they were headed.
The Voice of Russia radio reports that the convoy will travel 1,000 km (620 miles) to the southwest, and is expected to take 2-3 days before arriving at the Ukrainian border. Ukraine fears that Russia may ignore the International Red Cross conditions for delivery of humanitarian aid. If so, the government in Kiev says that the convoy will be prevented from crossing into Ukraine.
By Jim Hanemaayer