Russia brings ‘humanitarian’ convoys to Ukraine by day, military trucks carrying death by night
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission [SMM] has reported another convoy of Russian trucks in Ukraine. Unlike the fanfare over Russia’s first so-called ‘humanitarian convoy’ this year, the convoy of trucks was clearly trying to hide something, and was spotted by the OSCE drone on a dirt road leading to the border in a place where there is no border crossing.. There have been many such sightings by now, with some of the convoys visibly carrying visible military equipment, It is unclear how many other convoys bring weapons of destruction to Ukraine without being spotted. It is likely that Russia turned to such night trips after video footage of a BUK missile launcher being transported through the Luhansk oblast and then hurriedly taken back across the border into Russia after the MH17 downing proved invaluable evidence enabling the Joint Investigation Team to clearly establish Russia’s major role in the crime.
The OSCE SMM report that their drone (“an SMM long range UAV) spotted 8 trucks, with three probably tanker trucks, and four with trailers attached. They were stationary and on a dirt road close to the border with Russia. This was around 2 kilometres south-east of Stepne, which OSCE refers to as ‘non-government-controlled’. This was the second sighting in July, with the earlier spotting making it quite clear that the trucks had come from across the border.
The OSCE SMM reported on 13 July that aerial footage from 5 July showed at least five trucks, also around 2 kilometres south-east of Stepne. Aerial footage was also detected in two places of either five or three fresh vehicle tracks leading to the border.
Over a space of two and a half hours (from 01.01 to 02.42) during the night of 14 June, an SMM drone spotted military trucks travelling between a railway station and a warehouse in Sukhodilsk, near the border with the Russian Federation. The drone saw five military trucks at the train station itself, “in a position to load and unload cargo”, and also eight military trucks parked at the front and to the east of the main train station building.
The OSCE Mission makes a point of avoiding any comment at all, which makes it easy to miss details. It is possible that there have been more sightings, and, of course, very likely that military convoys are crossing the border by dark of night and on dirt roads away from official border crossings more often than gets spotted by the SMM drones. The following make the secrecy clear and also the lengths to which Russia or the Russian-controlled militants will go to prevent footage of weapons being transported to Ukraine.
On the night from 30 May to 1 June, an SMM drone saw three military type trucks on an unpaved road near Cheremshyne, around 2 kilometres from the border Then another such truck and car were seen coming from a dirt track running in parallel to the first. All these vehicles formed a convoy that headed to a place on the outskirts of non-government-controlled Luhansk where there were other military-type trucks and when men could be seen unloading the trucks.
There were smaller sightings near the border during the night of 2-3 June as well.
The drones make it impossible for Russia to rely solely on darkness and dirt roads. There have been several occasions where drones were jammed at around the same time as they detected such convoys, and once a drone was shot down.
On 27 October 2018, a UAV was first jammed, and then brought down, after it spotted a Russian military weapon system, as well as “a convoy of seven trucks on a dirt road near the border with the Russian Federation where there are no border crossing facilities”
The downing of the drone prompted a strongly-worded Joint Statement from France and Germany. This condemned the downing of the UAV, and stated that: :“Evidence collected by SMM suggests Russia and the separatists it backs bear responsibility for the targeting and downing of the LR UAV, blinding the mission at this particular spot.” The joint statement then elicited a rather bizarre response from Marina Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson. She claimed that the route of a drone whose very purpose is to detect what might otherwise remain safely concealed should have been agreed in advance with the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [DPR, LPR
The incident on 27 October was the second that month where jamming was used in connection with sightings of sophisticated military hardware.
On 10 October 2018, the jamming began after the UAV spotted a Ural truck mounted with an anti-aircraft-gun (ZU‑23, 23mm)) on a dirt road around 2 km from the border, as well as other movement. On that occasion, the SMM managed to recall the UAV “due to multiple instances of GPS signal loss assessed as jamming.”
There have also been sightings on (at the very least) the following:
One of the charges that Ukraine has brought against Russia before the UN’s International Court of Justice is of financing terrorism, in violation of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. During the preliminary hearings into this suit, a Russian representative claimed that the militants in occupied Donbas were using weapons from Soviet times stored in Donbas mines.* The Russian BUK missile which killed all 298 passengers and crew of MH17 was not the only weapon of killing which Russia has sent into Ukraine, and it seems extremely likely that one of the routes used is travelled by military trucks via dirt roads by night.