Ukraine Liveblog Day 179: Russian Build-Up Continues At Border As Armour Enters Ukraine

August 15, 2014
Russian military vehicles headed west near the Ukrainian border this morning. Photo: @BBCSteveR

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.

Reports Of Ukrainian Forces Moving On Lugansk reports that Ukrainian forces have entered the separatist-held city of Lugansk.

They report (translated by The Interpreter):

Ukrainian forces entered the regional center, Lugansk. As of 23:31 this evening local time, street battles were under way, a source in the Ukrainian Armed Forces told a correspondent from He added that the situation was worsened by the fact that the separatists were firing indiscriminately on residential areas. 

“Essentially, the fighters have turned all of Lugansk into a stronghold. These are not just militia men. There are professional soldiers fighting on the side of the LPR.”

In recent days, Russian APCs have been spotted moving into Ukraine, and a humanitarian convoy has pulled up to the checkpoint of Izvarino, also used frequently for months to move support into separatists from Russia. Could the “professional fighters” be the truck drivers who changed out of their khakis? Or Russian soldiers who have been making their way into the area for days?

A large number of fighters have been seen in the area of a plane at the VVVAUSH (Voroshilovgrad Higher Military Aviation Academy of Fighters).


Local residents reported tonight that there were fires in area of Transpele, a knit-ware factory, and fires in the direction of Khryashchevaty. There are also reports of shelling of the Epitsentr market (in the eastern quarters). 

Russia Tries To Explain Why The Aid Trucks Are Empty
A number of Western journalists have reported that the white-painted KAMAZ trucks used in Russia’s humanitarian aid convoy turn out to be empty. There’s been a lot of speculation about what they were planning to fill them with, but now Russian transportation officials have come up with an explanation.

It seems the KAMAZ trucks were so new — manufactured this year — that they weren’t broken in yet, and therefore couldn’t be trusted to carry full loads under Russian regulations — nor be forced to absorb so much wear when they were brand-new.

There were also only a limited number of persons accompanying the convoy. An official from the transportation agency that handled the make-up of the convoy had explanations for RIA-Novosti (translated by The Interpreter):

“The KAMAZes were not loaded fully so that there wouldn’t be excessive wear on automobiles that were not yet broken in, many of which were of 2014 make. It would mean that in case of a breakdown of the mechanics and a stop on the highway, reloading the cargo by hand to other vehicles completely filled to capacity, would be quite difficult. Moreover, a fully-loaded truck does not go fast enough uphill, so in view of the large number of vehicles, this would have had a heavy impact on the speed of the convoy’s movement. And the cargo must be delivered quickly in light of the difficult humanitarian situation in the east of Ukraine.”

Where to start?

First of all, these trucks are not just carrying light loads, but as we pointed out earlier they are almost empty and are carrying a tiny tiny fraction of the weight they were designed to haul.In fact, Novaya Gazeta has a new gallery up, and the trucks are ridiculously empty.

Secondly, why would new vehicles be used instead of the many many trucks at Russia’s disposal?On a related note, these are military trucks, as we’ve pointed out below, and so why weren’t different military trucks used, ones that were newer?

Thirdly, we’re supposed to believe that these trucks are new, but the trucks are military vehicles which were painted white just this week. One would assume that the Russian military would break their trucks in fairly quickly, or why would they have so many trucks?

Fourth, why does the Russian government care about the speed with which the aid is delivered, since these vehicles have been parked at the same spot for days now?

Russian Defense Minister Says There’s No Military Soldiers In ‘Aid Convoy.’ He’s Lying

Below is the readout of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s Phone Call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu:

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke today via telephone with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Specifically, Secretary Hagel requested clarification regarding the Russian humanitarian convoy. Minister Shoygu “guaranteed” that there were no Russian military personnel involved in the humanitarian convoy, nor was the convoy to be used as a pretext to further intervene in Ukraine. He acknowledged that the goods would be delivered and distributed under the International Committee of the Red Cross. Minister Shoygu assured Secretary Hagel that Russia was meeting Ukraine’s conditions.

The two ministers discussed the need to have bilateral follow-on meetings of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. They also agreed to maintain open lines of communication.

The promise that this is not a pretext for an invasion would be more comforting if it were not placed right after an obvious lie. The aid convoy originated on a military base and was guarded by an S-300 missile defense system. A Russian soldier claims the military painted 300 military trucks to make them white. It appears that the drivers of the vehicles are, in fact, military officers, and some of them have even been seen with Russian airborne tattoos.

And then there’s the claim that the aid is being delivered under Ukraine’s conditions. No, it is not. Ukraine negotiated with Russia to have these vehicles driven to a border crossing north of Kharkiv and allow the Red Cross take over the convoys. Instead, these vehicles are located near the separatist-controlled Izvarino crossing and are guarded by a large amount of military vehicles, some of which have already been documented as having crossed the border last night.

More Russian Armored Vehicles Moving Near Border Crossing Right Now
Once again, it is evening on the border between Russia and Ukraine, and once again journalists are spotting Russian armor moving on the border.
What Is Shaping Putin’s Foreign Policy?

Why is Putin doing this? What is shaping his Ukraine policy? The Interpreter’s Andrew Bowen Examines these questions in his latest analysis, The Vanguard of Russia’s New Foreign Policy.

Bowen argues that since 2008 we have seen a gradual shift from the pragmatic Putin, to a more ideological leader bent on preserving his ideas of Russian statehood and sovereignty. In order to project Russian power and to defend this notion the country needed a strong military. This military and its elite forces have come to be the most important foreign policy tool in the Kremlin’s arsenal. It is these troops, designed to operate in the confusing and shifting landscape of conflict that are the defenders of Putin’s new vision for Russia.

Bowen’s article has received some high praise from the President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves:

Why Are Russian ‘Aid Trucks’ Mostly Empty?
There have been a lot of pictures like this since Russia’s aid convoy parked near the border:

Almost all of the vehicles are nearly empty, according to journalists who were allowed to inspect them. BBC’s Steve Rosenberg finds a vehicle reportedly carrying buckwheat — nearly empty. This is a screenshot from his video report.


Buckwheat has a bulk density, measured by pounds per cubic foot, of about 40. According to the specs of the Kamaz manufacturer, even a smaller, cheaper Kamaz truck like the KAMAZ-4326 4X4 should be able to move over 9200 pounds of cargo. A KAMAZ-53215 6Х4 should be able to carry nearly 25,000 pounds of cargo. There is simply no practical reason for these trucks to be nearly empty, so why are they not loaded to anywhere-near full capacity?

Russia Says The Aid Convoy May Be Attacked – Justification For Invasion?

We’ve been asking for days whether Russia would use this humanitarian convoy as an excuse to invade Ukraine. While many analysts suggested that the aid convoy could literally be a “Trojan Horse” filled with weapons, the more likely possibility has always been that if this was a “trojan Horse” Russia would simply accompany the aid convoy in its mission to deliver aid to eastern Ukraine, providing cover for a full-scale invasion.

Now, Russia is signaling that this may in fact be exactly the plan:

RT, the Russian state-run propaganda outlet which appears to have broken this news before the Russian Foreign Ministry, reports:

Moscow has information that the convoy delivering humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine may be attacked by Kiev’s forces, with the “punitive” Aidar Battalion planning to mine the road that the vehicles will use, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.

On Friday, Moscow accused Ukraine of attempting to disrupt the humanitarian aid convoy now that the preparations for its delivery have reached their final stages and all key issues have been agreed upon.

“The preparations for its delivery have reached their final stages and all key issues have been agreed upon.” They have? Does the Ukrainian government know this? Does the Red Cross? There is no indication that either Kiev or the ICRC have any idea what Russia is planning.

RT ends with this:

Russia also reiterated that it would carry out the agreements reached with the Ukrainian government and the ICRC on delivering aid to Donbass residents as quickly as possible and in full.

“We are doing everything we can to provide security for this mission,” the Foreign Ministry said. Russia urged both the Kiev military and the east Ukrainian militia to immediately announce a ceasefire to allow the humanitarian convoy to reach Donbass residents.

In other words, Russia urgently needs to get this aid to eastern Ukraine, it will stop at nothing to make that happen, and it may need to send troops to ensure the safety of the convoy.

At this hour large columns of Russian armor have been spotted moving toward the  Donetsk-Izvarino crossing (map), ahead of the aid convoy which is parked not far behind in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky (map).

Ukraine Says Several Villages Near Yenakievo And Debaltsevo Retaken

Interfax-Ukraine reports that the Ukrainian National Defence and Security Council (SNBO) has announced that several villages in eastern Ukraine have been retaken in the last 24 hours.

According to the report, Chernukhino near Debaltsevo, and Bulavinskoye and Aleksandrovskoye, near Yenakievo, have all been retaken by Ukrainian forces.

The statement also said that Ukrainian forces have engaged separatist fighters on 25 occasions during the last day near the following settlements: Blagodatnoye, Nikiforovka, Adeyevka, Sabovka, Nizhnaya Olkhovaya, Ilovaysk, Yelenovka, Starobeshevo, Debaltsevo, Faschevka, Beryozovoye, Tonenkoye, Kuteynikovye and Ilynka.

The SNBO also noted that shelling from across the Russian border has continued, with Grad rocket attacks on the Uspenka border crossing in the Donetsk region. The infrastructure of the crossing checkpoint has been almost completely destroyed according to the report.

UK Speaks To Poroshenko, Summons Russian Ambassador Over Border Incursion

First, the Ukrainian President’s office has released a statement on a conversation between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and UK Prime Minister David Cameron:

The parties coordinated their actions on the response to the information regarding the entry of Russian military machines to the territory of Ukraine that has been clearly witnessed by international journalists, particularly of “Guardian” newspaper. The President informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of that machines had been eliminated by the Ukrainian artillery at night.

The British Prime Minister once again reaffirmed his strong and gradual support to Ukraine and the actions of the President. He also asked about the issue on humanitarian assistance for Luhansk. The President informed on recent developments. He stressed that the Ukrainian part of the international humanitarian assistance in the framework of the Red Cross mission was on its way to Luhansk.

The President expressed concern over the situation on the border, particularly, over the fact that the inflow of Russian arms and military machines in Ukraine through the open part of the border continued.

The parties discussed international efforts for the dialogue on the possibility to settle the situation in the Donbas and the prospects of enhancing military-technical cooperation.

David Cameron informed that Great Britain was ready to provide financial assistance to Ukraine in the framework of the UN humanitarian assistance.

Now this:

It seems that not only did a few journalists conclusively see Russia invade yesterday, but the whole world took notice.
Kiev Says It’s Destroyed Part of Russian Invasion Convoy On Ukrainian Soil

Reuters reports:

A Ukrainian military spokesman said Friday that Ukraine forces have engaged a Russian armored column on Ukrainian soil and “part of it no longer exists.”

More details when we have them.

Red Cross Sending Additional Staff to Ukraine And Russia

While Ukraine’s aid convoy has reached Lugansk today and its supplies are being distributed, seemingly without incident thus far, many things are unclear today about Russia’s aid convoy. What is the plan for these trucks? Where will they cross the border? Who will drive the trucks (right now they are being driven, it seems, by Russian soldiers)? And why are they being escorted by significant amounts of Russian firepower.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has made some statements today on Twitter:

We’re not sure whether these statements answer any of the questions. Russia had reached an agreement with Ukraine, the ICRC, and members of the EU that Russia would deliver these aid trucks to a checkpoint north of Kharkiv where the trucks would be inspected and the ICRC would take charge of the convoy. So far all of Russia’s promises have been broken. So what happens next?
Russia Will Do ‘Everything Within Our Power’ To Fix Ukraine

Vladimir Putin may have just spelled out his motivation in a conversation with the Finnish President today. RFE/RL reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has agreed with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto they will “do everything within our power” to end the conflict in Ukraine.

The crisis in Ukraine where government troops are fighting pro-Russian separatists was high on the agenda of talks Putin and Niinisto held on August 15 in Sochi.

Niinisto, speaking through a translator, said he hoped a Russian aid delivery to eastern Ukraine would pave the way for a cease-fire.

Putin also said EU sanctions against Moscow put under threat an entire range of ties between Russia and Finland.

Journalist Tweets Picture of Russian Armor Headed Towards Ukrainian Border
Moments ago Roland Oliphant tweeted that he spotted Russian armor headed to Ukraine. Now he has tweeted a photo of a small part of the convoy:
NATO Spots Russian ‘Incursion’ Across The Border

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today that NATO spotted an “incursion” of Russian armor across the border. Reuters reports:

“Last night we saw a Russian incursion, a crossing of the Ukrainian border,” he told reporters after meeting the Danish defense minister.

“It just confirms the fact that we see a continuous flow of weapons and fighters from Russia into eastern Ukraine and it is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine,” the Danish NATO chief said…

Lithuania’s foreign minister said on Friday he had reports that 70 pieces of Russian military equipment had crossed the border into Ukraine during the night.

“We are very much concerned about the situation developing (in Ukraine) because, on the one hand, we are talking very much about this so-called humanitarian convoy but, at the same time, we see that escalation continues, and we have reports that during the night 70 pieces of military equipment again entered through the border,” Linas Linkevicius told reporters as he arrived for an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers.

Russian Paratroopers Now 10 km From Border

BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicles of Russia’s airborne forces, which were photographed earlier today at the junction of the M4 with the border road to Izvarino, have now been spotted 10 km from the border by Birgit Virnich, ARD’s Moscow correspondent:

Translation: War of nerves in the Ukraino-Russian border area. Armoured vehicles 10 km from the border.
Journalist Witnesses More Russian Armor Headed To Ukraine Border
One of the journalists who witnessed Russian armor cross the border into Ukraine yesterday is again saying he’s witnessed Russian convoys moving to the border:
That’s Donetsk, the border city in Russia, not the one in Ukraine.
Then there are more signs that the Russian military is beefing-up the air defenses in the area:
Lysenko: Liberation Of Donetsk And Lugansk Has Begun

UNIAN reports that Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Defence and Security Council (SNBO) has told reporters at a briefing today that the liberation of Donetsk and Lugansk is imminent. Whether his claim is over-optimistic or not will apparently be evident by Monday.

He said (translated by The Interpreter):

Regarding the time for the completion of the ATO. Preparations have been made for the liberation of these cities. I will say that this will not take a day or two. Plans have been drawn up – plans for encirclement and impeding deliveries of fighters and weapons. The operation has begun. We will inform you of its positive effects.

Ukrainian Aid Arrives In Lugansk Region

Ukrainska Pravda reports that Ukrainian government-organised humanitarian aid has reached towns in the Lugansk region (but not Lugansk itself).

According to Irina Herashchenko, the presidential commissioner for the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, three convoys have arrived: one, from Kharkiv, has reached Starobelsk, the second, from Dnipropetrovsk, has reached Severodonetsk and the third, from Kiev, is in Lysychansk.

Herashchenko stressed that the Ukrainian convoy had been overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and had met all regulations. She reiterated the Ukrainian state position (with regards to the Russian aid convoy now near the Izvarino crossing) that humanitarian aid must be handed over to the the ICRC and that no military convoy can accompany such a mission.

 She said that some of the flour had already been distributed to local bakeries in towns liberated from Russian-backed separatists, and that the rest of the humanitarian aid would be delivered as soon as possible “God willing, by the mission of the Red Cross in the occupied areas.”

The trucks reportedly carried vegetables, cereals, canned food, flour, household cleaning agents, nappies, items for personal hygiene and medicines.

Here are photos from Herashchenko’s Facebook post:





FSB Claims Russian Vehicles Did Not Enter Ukraine

The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has dismissed eyewitness reports from journalists (both British and Russian) that Russian armoured vehicles entered Ukraine yesterday.

The state-owned news agency ITAR-TASS reports comments by a representative of the regional branch of the FSB border service (translated by The Interpreter):

He explained that “due to regular shelling of the territory of the Russian Federation and increasing incidence of massed crossings by Ukrainian servicemen of the Russo-Ukrainian border, all necessary measures are being taken to ensure the safety of the residents of the border regions.”

“For this purpose, mobile groups from the border service of the FSB have been set up, which, acting on the calls of residents about the ongoing shelling and armed clashes in the border area, promptly set off for these areas to ensure the security of the state border and Russian citizens, as well as to prevent the infiltration of armed people into Russian territory,” said the representative from the border service.

“In doing this they are operating exclusively within the territory of the Russian Federation,” he stressed. 

Russian-Supplied Artillery On Move In Donetsk

Bojan Pancevski of The Sunday Times has tweeted photos of a 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled gun and a truck fitted with an anti-aircraft gun on the move in separatist-held Donetsk:

More Gvozdikas appear in what appears to be a traffic webcam screenshot:

The 2S1 Gvozdika guns in separatist hands appear largely to have come from Russia, though there have been more recent reports of at least one being captured from the Ukrainian army. 

On June 20, we spotted unmarked Gvozdikas in the drab green paint scheme associated with weapons bound for the separatists (in contrast to vehicles in Russian camouflage) in a video of a train transport in Millerovo, Russia.

On July 16, a column of armoured vehicles, including a number of identical Gvozdikas was filmed en route from Lugansk to Donetsk, along the route taken by many armoured columns travelling from the Izvarino crossing. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine has deployed heavier rocket artillery, with video footage of what looks like either a BM-27 Uragan or BM-30 Smerch rocket launcher firing in an unidentified location:

Russian Military Build-Up Near Izvarino Crossing Continues

Having been spotted crossing the border into Ukraine by two British journalists yesterday, the Russian army continues to amass forces near the Ukrainian border.

Journalists working near the camp site of the Russian aid convoy, ostensibly bound at some point for Ukraine, have photographed large numbers of Russian military vehicles arriving in the area and moving towards the border:

A Russian BMD-2 infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) leads a column near the border. This vehicle is used by Russian Airborne forces (VDV) who formed key components of the Crimean invasion.

The Estonian Postimees newspaper published photos of Russian BMD-2s queued up the entrance to the customs control zone at the junction that leads from the M4 motorway to the border crossing:




There were also sightings of the components of Buk SAM systems (as appears to have been used to down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17) being transported in the same area:

An aerial search radar has also been deployed in the area: