Putin scores

August 24, 2014 - 1:22:48 am

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should be prepared to deal with a recalcitrant Putin in Tuesday’s Minsk talks. 

The much-vaunted convoy of Russian trucks with aid for east Ukrainians has come back after delivering the supplies to the beleaguered region. After a protracted stand-off, the trucks had virtually forced their way across the Ukrainian border showing Russian clout in a region Moscow considers to be its sphere of influence. 

Despite Kiev trying to throw its weight after sustained support from the West, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has won the battle by forcing through relief material for the Russian-speaking people of Lugansk it considers its own. Ukraine along with the West had voiced concerns at Moscow intending to send the aid. It was suspected that in the guise of humanitarian cargo, Russia would try to send arms to pro-Russian rebels. 

As the aid trucks remained stranded on the way to the Ukrainian border, it was decided that the International Committee of the Red Cross would accompany the cargo that would be let in after a thorough check by Ukraine’s customs authorities. 

As the white column of trucks was parked in the no-man’s land between the two countries, a thorough search of the vehicles was being undertaken by Ukrainian customs. However, the truck drivers showed impatience and forced their way through. It seems the apparent ‘impatience’ of the convoy was planned to trick Ukrainian authorities. 

The upside of the entire episode in which Moscow sent humanitarian aid to besieged residents of Lugansk is that a large number of people, including women and children, have got much-needed commodities like food, water and medicine. 

Amid all this, German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday called for a bilateral ceasefire in Ukraine. However, she was quick to threaten Russia with more sanctions in a battle of attrition that has seen Moscow and western powers led by the US lock horns over curbs on trade and commerce. 

The battle has reached the symbol of American capitalism — global fast food chain McDonald’s. After Russia closed three McDonald’s outlets citing violation of hygiene norms, Russian authorities began a nationwide inspection of the American chain. This was most likely an effort by the Kremlin to arm-twist the West. Putin wants the White House to know that if it can do it, the Kremlin can do it better. 

Poroshenko’s impending talks with Putin on Tuesday are seen to be important for the resolution of the conflict. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops keep pounding rebel positions in the east leading to civilian casualties that increases resentment against Kiev. 

After scoring a fragile victory in pushing humanitarian aid into Ukraine, Putin is likely to play his cards well in talks with Poroshenko in Belarus. Relenting is the last thing expected of Putin and Poroshenko should be prepared for this•