Controversial cargo

August 14, 2014 - 12:41:46 am

The standoff over the Russian aid convoy to eastern Ukraine is a precursor to the crisis taking a new turn.

About 300 Russian trucks are hurtling towards the Ukrainian border from Russia. They are not carrying ordinary cargo. The trucks, which have exacerbated the tension between Russia and the West, are carrying relief material for Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country. 

The crisis in Ukraine has unfolded unexpectedly. With Russia casting a long shadow on its former sphere of influence and the West trying to fend off Kremlin’s intriguing advances towards a region seen to be progressively leaning westwards, the clash takes unlikely turns. 

The trucks are meant to be carrying food, water, medicines and other essential supplies for Ukrainians caught in the fighting in Luhansk and other regions. Russia-backed rebels have occupied large swathes of the east after former President Viktor Yanukovich was thrown out by Ukrainians who led a revolt against his corrupt regime. 

In the chaos that followed, masked troopers purportedly from Russia and backed by the Kremlin, started occupying government buildings. Fierce fighting among Russian rebels and Ukrainian troops led to hundreds being killed and property worth millions destroyed. The protracted conflict has pitted the West against the Kremlin, in a throwback to the days of the Cold War. Mistrust of each other has punctuated the crisis. 

Such is the political climate that even aid sent by another country is being seen as a subterfuge for invasion. The West believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the relief trucks to invade Ukraine. This comes in the wake of Moscow amassing thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, which was earlier part of the Soviet Republic.

Even though people in the east are in dire straits without medicines and food, the West’s rivalry with Russia has trumped the need of the civilian population. After Petro Poroshenko took over as president, Ukraine has sounded assertive. Now, it has set conditions that should be met for the aid to cross the Ukrainian border. Kiev says the aid trucks will only be allowed to enter the country if they are accompanied by the International Society of the Red Cross. 

Moscow has made it clear the trucks contain only food and relief material and nothing else. Russian officials say the vehicles won’t cross the border but the cargo will be transferred. The level of Ukrainian mistrust in Moscow was evident in Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk’s remark: “First they send tanks, Grad missiles and bandits who fire on Ukrainians and then they send water and salt.” The aid convoy, which started from Moscow, is expected at the Ukrainian border in two to three days. A highly sceptical Ukraine is waiting with trepidation. How events turn will largely determine the course of the crisis and the direction of Ukraine-Russia relations•