Poland knows about Russian ‘humanitarian convoys’. It didn’t let one in.
Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, Polish journalist and former diplomat, writes that Poland has also been through a ‘humanitarian convoy’ crisis. It came through it unscathed by refusing to allow the convoy in. Georgia was less fortunate.
Kostrzewa-Zorbas explains that the Soviet tactics used in 1991 to get into Poland through camouflage, distortion of reality and psychological pressure were similar to those now seen in Ukraine. it would be easier, he suggests, to counter what he calls the Russian military operation “humanitarian convoy” if politicians, as well as public opinion in Ukraine, in the EU and NATO remembered that the Soviet Union tried the same thing on with Poland and that Poland won.
The Soviet Union was ignoring Poland’s demands made in September 1990 to withdraw Soviet troops from its territory. In retaliation, Poland blocked the evacuation through its territory of Soviet forces from former GDR [East Germany]. This put the USSR in danger of breaching its agreement to remove its troops from Germany following the latter’s unification.
The strategy worked, and quickly at that. The author’s implied cause and effect in saying that therefore Poland has no Russian army, but is in NATO and the EU could probably be argued, however Poland certainly withstood Soviet pressure with style.
The Soviet government announced that a huge convoy of ‘humanitarian aid’ for people in the USSR was being sent via Poland from the former East Germany. This convoy would be made up of 200 Soviet military trucks accompanied by armed soldiers under military leadership. This was said to be the first of hundreds of such convoys.
Poland stated that it would not allow an armed military column disguised as a humanitarian convoy. The Soviet communist party official paper Pravda then accused it of a lack of Christian love for its neighbour and Soviet diplomacy went all out to present Poland as heartless and cruel. The ploy appeared to be working with western diplomats, media, churches and other organizations coming out in defence of the poor suffering Soviet people to whose plight Poland was supposedly indifferent.
Poland did not back down. It offered to allow the so-called humanitarian aid to be transported by Polish railway as cargo with no soldiers, and no military status. The author said that at that point the convoy disappeared, and that it’s not even certain whether it actually existed. “Only the Soviet Army existed for certain”.
Russia’s so-called ‘humanitarian convoy’ disappeared from site on Wednesday after Kyiv made it clear that it would not allow the trucks to pass into Ukraine without being checked by Ukrainian and International Red Cross officials and reloaded. It would be nice to see this as a repetition of the Polish experience, unfortunately the analogy with Georgia in 1993 seems more immediate. On that occasion Russia used just such a convoy to get military supplies into the Akhazian city of Tkvarcheli, which Georgian military forces were holding under siege. Russia also used rhetoric about humanitarian concerns to justify its war with Georgia in 2008.
The near three hundred military trucks painted white were supposed to be heading to the Kharkiv oblast border crossing, however whether this was ever genuinely planned as the border crossing point seems doubtful. The trucks’ whereabouts on Wednesday night are unclear, though it seems likely that they will try to cross the border into Ukraine in the Luhansk oblast.
It is very much to be hoped that satellite pictures are recording exactly what is happening with these trucks and their load, and that even if the information is not made public, it will be communicated to those world leaders who may still have levers of influence on Russia. Whatever the latter is playing at, this has long ceased to be a game.