Ukraine LiveBlog Day 178: Russian Aid Convoy on the Move Again

August 14, 2014
Russian aid convoy 14 August 2014. Photo by BBC.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

For the latest summary of evidence surrounding the shooting down of flight MH17 see our separate article: Evidence Review: Who Shot Down MH17?

Below we will be making regular updates so check back often.

Russian Troops Cross Into Ukraine, Large Military Convoys Spotted Just Hours Away

The Telegraph is confirming that their journalists saw a Russian armored convoy of 23 vehicles cross into Ukraine today:

The Telegraph witnessed a column of vehicles including both armoured personal carriers and soft-skinned lorries crossing into Ukraine at an obscure border crossing near the Russian town of Donetsk shortly before 10pm local time.

The convoy, which included at least 23 vehicles, appeared to be waiting until sunset near a refugee camp just outside Donetsk, before moving towards the crossing without turning off headlights or making any other attempt to conceal itself.

While it was not immediately clear whether all of that convoy crossed the border, The Telegraph did see a substantial number of vehicles pass through check point manned by gunmen after shadowing the convoy down narrow country lanes near the frontier.

No attempt to conceal itself… Russia now knows that journalists are in the area of this border crossing and yet it is crossing vehicles across the border anyway. Russia’s intentions are naked, and with a massive amount of firepower still gathering near the border, an even larger invasion could happen as early as this evening or tomorrow.

In the last days we have seen videos of military equipment, often moving in the same towns as the ‘aid convoy’ but sometimes just traveling nearby. And while there are tens of thousands of Russian troops on the border, there are now many more tens of thousands within 5-10 hours of the border.

Take this video:

That massive column (the description says it’s not even the whole column) is reportedly in Timashyovsk headed towards Bryukhevetskaya. We can’t definitively locate the video because of the featureless terrain, but that road does have Google streetview and the topography is consistent (map). That puts this convoy about 3 hours from Rostov-on-Don and perhaps only 4-6 hours from Ukraine, depending on the route traveled. Even though these vehicles aren’t “on the border” and therefore might not raise suspicion, they are staged within easy striking distance of an already porous border.

This is perhaps a different convoy (or possibly the same one earlier in the day) reportedly taken in Krymsk (map) evidently at this location near the Rosneft gas station.


These vehicles could drive north and be in Ukraine in less than 7 hours, or they could drive east, board vehicles, and enter Ukraine through Crimea.

The point is that there are dozens of reports like this, and coupled with the fact that the aid convoy is not traveling where Russia said it was going to travel, and with the fact that Russian armor has now been spotted crossing the border, the safe assumption is that Russia is preparing to outright invade Ukraine all of this equipment could be on the other side of the border before the weekend starts.

Will Putin commence with a full-scale invasion? There is no way of telling. Could he? Yes, and within minutes of giving the order Ukraine would be faced with a massive Russian military presence. What is the likelihood that it could happen? Well, if you ask reporters on the border today, they’d all tell you that in small scale it’s already started.

A New Defense Minister and a New ‘Strelkov’ in the DPR

There’s a new defense minister and a new Strelkov in the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR).

Igor Strelkov (the pseudonym of Igor Girkin; see our past reporting on him here and here ) resigned as the defense minister of the DPR after reports of a serious injury.

In his place, the DPR appointed as defense minister Vladimir Kononov, the pro-separatist reported. This appointment is scheduled to be approved by the DPR Supreme Council tomorrow, August 15. (He is not to be confused with the United Russian parliamentarian by the same name but with a different patronymic, Mikhailovich.)

Vladimir Petrovich Kononov was born in 1974 in Gorsky in Lugansk Region. He is an ethnic Russian and a graduate of the Slavyansk College of Civil Aviation. He also received a degree in 1999 from the Slavyansk State Pedagogical Institute and has been a sports trainer for 20 years. 

Kononov completed military training as a senior commander and is known to have “a firm political position and organizational skills.” He was involved in the creation of the DPR’s armed formations and joined the “militia” in April 2014. Since then, he has been an active fighter including in the battles in Slavyansk.

The DPR then appointed as deputy defense minister a man named Nikolai Vladimirovich Strelkov, reports.

It is not known if this is a pseudonym or his real last name.

Born in 1970 in Krasny Luch to a miner’s family,
this Strelkov has completed training for two specialties with the Russian
Federation’s defense ministry, one in “hot spots” or conflict zones. His military
activity allegedly earned him several awards in Russia. A retired
colonel, this “brave man” is characterized as a
“strong-willed, purposeful, highly-organized, professional military.
This appointment will also be submitted to the Supreme Council of the DPR for approval tomorrow. 

Russian Armor with Peace-Keeping Symbol Spotted in Rostov Region

A Russian armored vehicle with a peace-keeping symbol was seen in Rostov Region.

Translation: So, here it goes. 14.08.2014. A vehicle with the symbol of the peace-keeping forces is moving through Rostov Region.#war #Ukraine #Russia

In one of the pictures, the road signs “Have a Good Trip” and “Kantemirsky District” are visible, which means the vehicle appears to be leaving Rostov Region to go into Voronezh Region where Kantemirsky District is located.


More Russian Tanks Reported Far From The Aid Convoy But Deep In Ukraine

That Russian armor has crossed into Ukraine is not new. We have been reporting it for more than a month. That journalists have recorded the very moments that the Russian armor has crossed the border just proves that Russia is becoming more bold in its open support for the separatists.

And there is a word for driving armored fighting vehicles across a border to capture territory — war. Another word might be invasion.

But far from the border, deep into Ukrainian territory, more Russian tanks are reported at this hour, but not near Lugansk — in Donetsk. That suggests that the separatists, who have won several battles today, have been able to use their Russian armor to keep the roads to Donetsk open.

And a reminder of the consequences of this war.
More Journalists Spot Russian Armor On Ukraine Side of the Border

John Schindler has posted a translation of an article posted on The New Times which says that this picture was taken by one of their photographers and shows Russian military vehicles which have crossed the border into Ukraine:


This matches a new report from The Guardian’s Shaun Walker:

The Guardian saw a column of 23 armoured personnel carriers, supported by fuel trucks and other logistics vehicles with official Russian military plates, travelling towards the border near the Russian town of Donetsk.

After pausing by the side of the road until nightfall, the convoy crossed into Ukrainian territory, using a rough dirt track and clearly crossing through a gap in a barbed wire fence that demarcates the border. Armed men were visible in the gloom by the border fence as the column moved into Ukraine. Kiev has lost control of its side of the border in this area.

The trucks are unlikely to represent a full-scale official Russian invasion, and it was unclear how far they planned to travel inside Ukrainian territory and how long they would stay. But it was incontrovertible evidence of what Ukraine has long claimed – that Russian troops are active inside its borders.

As for the identity of the men driving the “humanitarian aid” trucks nearby, here is a clue:

A parachute tattoo? Does this mean the soldiers are from the VDV (airborne)? As The Interpreter’s Andrew Bowen wrote today, the VDV have been Putin’s favorite troops in the ongoing operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Intense Fighting in Donetsk Claims At Least 2 Lives
While (nearly) all eyes are on the border, on the eastern edge of this conflict where Russian vehicles have been spotted moving across the border just moments ago, on the exact opposite side of the fighting, in Donetsk, the fighting is escalating quickly. This tweet was sent just moments ago:
And these reports are from earlier in the day:
The AFP has released this video showing the damage — and the blood — after today’s shelling:

More Information On Russian APCs Crossing Into Ukraine
More details from the reporters who witnessed Russian armor cross the border into Ukraine.
BREAKING: Reporters Witness Russian Crossing Into Ukraine
Breaking news…
More Russian Armor Spotted Moving Toward Ukraine
This video, uploaded today, reportedly shows Russian armor in Millerovo (approximately here) within easy striking distance of the Izvarino border crossing where the aid convoy is currently staged. We have not found any other versions of this video, which indicates that it is likely new.

The radio on in the car says that it is broadcasting in the Kamensk-Shakhtinsky area (map), which matches the description of the video. It shows the actual aid convoy. What this means is that the Russian armor and the aid convoy is all moving in the same direction.

Armored Military Convoy Spotted Headed Toward Ukraine From Russia
An alarming tweet from journalist Shaun Walker:

Meanwhile, the Red Cross appears to still be out of the loop. RFE/RL reports:

The Red Cross (ICRC) says it has made contact with a Russian aid convoy headed for the Ukrainian border.

The ICRC tweeted that it had made “initial contact” with the convoy in Russia’s Rostov region, near the rebel-held Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine. The organization said “any practical details are still to be clarified.”

Russian officials have not said where the convoy of nearly 300 trucks is headed.

Head of ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ Resigns

Earlier we reported that Colonel Igor Strelkov, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the self-declared ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ has stepped down to take a new post. We also reported that Strelkov may be injured — and some are even saying he’s dead. Now Valery Bolotov, the self-proclaimed head of the self-declared ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ has also resigned, reported. Yesterday, separatist news sites reported that Bolotov had been wounded in battle. or “Russian Spring” has frequently carried reports from the pro-Russian separatist movements and has not always been reliable, but it also published a video address of Bolotov in person announcing his resignation. The Russian state news channel Rossiya-24 also ran the video. The Interpreter has provided a translation:

“I have taken the decision to temporarily leave the post of head of the Lugansk People’s Republic. The effects of the wound will not enable me to work in this post with full dedication for the welfare of the people of Lugansk in difficult war-time.”

[Bolotov said he had not plans to leave the front.]

“I am a native of Lugansk, my home is here, and I will continue to fight for our common ideals. I am convinced that our struggle will end in success. It is no secret for anyone that we are on the brink of a humanitarian disaster. Under these circumstances, the leadership of the republic muts work at the limits of its capacities; not only the quality of life of Lugansk residents depends on it but their very lives. Understanding all this, I have made the decision to temporarily leave the post I held.”

What’s In Russia’s ‘Aid Convoy’ And Who Is It For?
Reporter Roland Oliphant has taken a look inside some of Russia’s aid convoy trucks:
The Red Cross had previously said that the items on the trucks included food, water, and generators. We’re not sure if sleeping bags and ‘tools’ were on the list.

As we’ve been reporting, however, a not-so-secret weapons stash is now gathering near the convoy as Russian helicopters and SAM systems were spotted joining its ranks, and tens of thousands of Russian troops and armor are within striking distance of Ukraine. As Russia appears to be breaking its agreements with Ukraine, there’s no telling whether this non-lethal aid is designed to help civilians or separatists — or perhaps these are supplies for the Russian military that could now cross into Ukraine within just minutes of the order being given.

Then there are these questions being asked by Ukrainians:

Separatists Say Military Leader Strelkov is ‘Fine,’ But Is Stepping Down

Yesterday there were reports that separatist military leader Igor Strelkov was severely injured, though those reports were unconfirmed and the separatists denied it. Now, a statement released by the separatist leaders of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ indicates that Strelkov will step down and take a less important position (translation by The Interpreter).

The Council of Ministers has satisfied the request of resignation from the post of DPR Ministry of Defense of Col. Igor Strelkov in connection with his transfer to another job, the DPR press service reports.

Aleksandr Zakharchenko, chairman of the Council of Ministers explained to those present what important work Igor Strelkov will be performing. In connection with his release from the position indicated, Vladimir Kononov has been appointed Minister of Defense. This appointment will be put on the agenda for confirmation by the Supreme Council. Vladimir Kononov informed those gathered about the situation on the front. At the meeting, an order from Commander-in-Chief Aleksandr Zakharchenko was publicized by the DPR Supreme Council on the introduction into the structure of the Defense Ministry of the position of first deputy defense minister and chief of the General Staff.

It’s not clear what post he has supposedly taken.

Meanwhile, another separatist leader, Aleksandr Boroday, the former self-declared ‘prime minister’ of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic who also recently resigned himself but kept the title of “vice premier,” has told LifeNews, a Russian news agency that is very cozy with the security and intelligence apparatus, that Strelkov is “fine.” (translation by The Interpreter)

LifeNews: We have information that Strelkov has been wounded.

Boroday: That’s nonsense. I don’t know who put out that information. I have just recently left Igor Ivanovich, everything is fine with him. You likely know that he, there is this news out, has left his post. Everything is fine with him. There is now a new DPR defense minister. Just like all the members of the government besides me and Aleksandr Zakharchenko, he uses a substitute for his name and patronymic, Defense Minister. Tsar, just Tsar, that’s his call sign. Yes, the situation is difficult, but it is far from critical.

US Mission to OSCE: ‘Russia’s Commitment To Peace Will Be Judged By Actions, Not Words’

The US mission to the OSCE has made statements, delivered by Chargé d’Affaires Gary Robbins, in Vienna today.Below is an excerpt.

The United States continues to condemn strongly Russia’s destabilizing actions and ongoing support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine as well as its continued occupation of Crimea.

The United States understands that talks are ongoing among the Governments of Russia, Ukraine, and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Luhansk – a city in eastern Ukraine currently held by force by Russia-backed separatists.  Considering the suffering the citizens of Luhansk have had to endure while separatists have controlled that city, we welcome this news.  A convoy of trucks from Russia is currently making its way towards Ukraine, reportedly carrying humanitarian assistance.  It is not entirely clear yet what is in the trucks, and this raises concerns.  Our position is that no humanitarian assistance – either from Russia or anywhere else – can enter Ukraine without the permission of the Ukrainian Government.  It has the final say on the modalities concerning this delivery and any other such delivery.  It appears that we have some time before the Russian trucks get to Ukraine’s border.  This should allow for any remaining details to be worked out before the trucks appear at the border.

If Russia wants to be part of an enduring solution to the crisis in Ukraine’s east, it must end its support to the separatist fighters.  Russia has no right to intervene in Ukraine unilaterally and without Kyiv’s permission under any pretext…

We also call on the Russian government to halt its material support for the separatists, and to use its influence with the separatists to push them to lay down their arms and to release all hostages.  We also call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, which remains an integral part of Ukraine.  In taking these steps, Russia can contribute to a restoration of lasting peace in Ukraine. 

The statement ends with what should now be obvious: “We reiterate that Russia’s commitment to peace in Ukraine will be judged by its actions, not its words.”

More Aid Trucks — And Military Hardware — Arriving on Ukraine’s Border
Tensions are high, to say the least, as more Russian aid trucks, accompanied by offensive military equipment like helicopters and surface-to-air missile systems, continue to arrive on Ukraine’s border, but not in the area agreed upon by Russia and the international community.
Then there is this weapon:
That looks like a 9K22 Tunguska mounted to a Kamaz truck. It is an anti-aircraft weapon equipped with both missiles and 30mm guns. The missiles are capable of knocking out low-altitude aircraft flying at under 3,500 meters, though missile variants have a range up to 10 kilometers. and the guns could be used to target low-flying aircraft, incoming projectiles, or even ground forces. When used in combination with more advanced missile systems which have been spotted in the area, the 9k22 is a formidable addition to Russia’s forces in the area.
Russian Military Traveling With Aid Convoy On The Same Route As the Buk Which Shot Down MH17

The Russian aid convoy is not near Kharkiv, the site where Russia agreed to give the convoy over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Instead, it is near the Izvarino border crossing, the same crossing that was reportedly used both to deliver the Buk which shot down MH17 and to receive it back into Russia after the passenger plane was destroyed, killing 298 civilians. Both Ukraine and NATO have plainly stated that any Russian military convoy crossing the border without meeting the terms of the Ukrainian government would be an attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine. And, to be clear, evidence shows that these are military vehicles, painted white and flying a Red Cross flag which they are not authorized to fly, which have not been inspected, and are crewed by Russian military drivers.

And today it is now very clear that they are also traveling with Russian military equipment:

Those “babies” look like they’re part of a Russian anti-aircraft system, though without a better picture we can’t yet make a positive ID.


This does indeed look like a Ranzhir command unit, which, incidentally, is also capable of coordinating missile systems like the powerful SA-17 Buk.
Lysenko – Russia Ignoring Demands, Cargo Must Be Handed To ICRC And Inspected By Border Guards

Interfax-Ukraine reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the National Defence and Security Council of Ukraine, has said at a briefing that Russia has ignored the conditions put forth by Ukraine and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

He said (translated by The Interpreter):

“Absolutely transparent conditions for entry into the international humanitarian mission have been proposed to the Russian side. Everything must go according to the instructions of the International Committee of the Red Cross. As we have seen over the last few days, the Russian side is avoiding fulfilling the demands of this international organisation.”

Lysenko said that even in the event that the decision was taken to deliver humanitarian assistance through a section of the border under the control of separatist militants, the convoys cargo must still be inspected by Ukrainian border guards and handed over to the ICRC.

Rada Approves Sanctions And Lustration Bills

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the Verkhovna Rada has approved a bill to impose sanctions on supporters and sponsors of terrorism in Ukraine. 

They report:

The government bill adopted on Tuesday morning was taken as a basic one.

A total of 244 lawmakers voted for this decision on Tuesday.

As reported, the Ukrainian government initiated sanctions against 172 individuals and 65 legal entities of Russia and other countries for supporting and financing terrorism in Ukraine.

News is also breaking that the Rada passed the much called-for lustration bill:

News is also breaking that the Rada passed the much called-for lustration bill:
Russian Convoy And Military Forces Drawing Up Near Izvarino Crossing

The Russian aid convoy has now parked up near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky. The town lies on the junction to the 35 or so kilometre road to the Izvarino border crossing into Ukraine.

The Izvarino crossing is not under Ukrainian government control, and has been used repeatedly over the last two months by Russian armoured columns being delivered to separatist fighters

Yesterday, the OSCE reported that it had observed increased military activity around the border area from August 6-12, including low flying helicopters, gunfire and men in camouflage crossing in and out of Ukrainian territory. 

As the Ukrainian government and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had planned for the convoy to arrive at the border of the Kharkiv region, and for aid supplies to be unloaded and transferred to the ICRC for distribution, this move displays a total disregard for the wishes of the Ukrainian state.

Yesterday, the Ukrainian interior minister, Arsen Avakov, made it clear that he had no intention of allowing the convoy to cross the border:

No “humanitarian convoy” of Putin’s will be allowed to pass through the territory of the Kharkiv region. A cynical provocation by an aggressor will not be tolerated on our territory. This is official.

As far as I’m concerned, Putin can take these 30 tons of salt that he’s bringing and pour them on his…

General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, wrote on Twitter that a crossing of the border by a Russian convoy, without Ukrainian control, would be a violation of sovereignty:

As the Izvarino crossing is not under Ukrainian control, and the ICRC appears to have been cut out of the whole affair by Russia, who yesterday failed to provide a detailed list of the contents of the trucks, it appears that Russia is not deterred by the implications of violating Ukraine’s sovereignty (which has, of course, been evident since they invaded Crimea, armed separatists and shelled Ukrainian territory).

Even more disturbingly, a large Russian military forces seems to have gathered at the crossing as well:

Russian Aid Convoy Takes Off Again Toward Rostov

The controversial Russian humanitarian aid convoy took off again this morning, headed toward Rostov, Western journalists reported.

This time the trucks had license plates, which had been removed at an army base on the journey south which began Monday.

The convoy appeared to be heading toward Rostov.

There were concerns yesterday that maybe the convoy had split in two, or some vehicles were missing, but this has not been confirmed yet.

Yesterday multiple reports of Russian armored vehicles also moving into the region of Belgorod on rail cars fueled concerns that the humanitarian convoy could be a decoy for a military invasion of Ukraine. This photo was uploaded by a user to Instagram on August 12 and has been geolocated to Belgorod (see Belgorod university cupola on the horizon.)