24.11.2015 | Halya Coynash

A German – Russian Donbas ‘Humanitarian’ Con


   Gehrcke (left) and Hunko  [’DNR’ website] 

Two German MPs have yet again visited areas under Kremlin-backed militant control, providing both aid in the form of medication and dollops of pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Their visit coincided with the 45th Russian humanitarian convoy to have entered and left Ukraine without permission or proper checks of what they are carrying.  Neither the German MPs, nor Russia have expressed any criticism of the so-called ‘‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’] who over the last months have expelled western NGOs, thus stopping them from bringing critically needed aid to Donbas.

In fact, the ‘social disorientation’ which the Kremlin’s proxies claimed they were seeking to prevent by expelling western aid organizations appears to be ideological.  It is Russia and its allies, including German deputies from the left-wing, who are presented as tackling the mounting humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s hybrid warfare. 

The deputies – Wolfgang Gehrcke and Andrej Hunko, both from Germany’s De Linke party, appeared in militant-controlled Horlivka on Nov 19, apparently bringing 130 thousand EUR worth of medicines for the local children’s hospital (and, seemingly, other hospitals)  Hunko states on his website that this is from over 1 thousand donors.  The assumption is understandable that these are German donors, however that is not necessarily the case.  In February this year, both men arrived for the first time with aid.  They had then been funded, or at least helped, by an NGO with a Moscow address and bank details (Zemlyachestvo Donbasa).  This fund which claims to have been “created to provide humanitarian aid to residents of the South-East of Ukraine” works closely with a committee affiliated to Russia’s Federation Council (the upper house of parliament). At least Hunko was banned entry to Ukraine from April this year, however the ban was waived for the period of the local elections in October.  Hunko, who was predictably on the militants’ list of desired ‘international observers’, was less understandably due to take part in an official Council of Europe observer mission.  Judging by a Sputnik Intl report, he did not go, claiming that this was because of security threats.  

On both occasions their visit was used for maximum propaganda purpose.  On Nov 20, for example, the ‘DNR’ official website reported that Hunko had spoken of how it would be difficult to sleep after seeing the consequences of the shelling of Donetsk.  Gehrcke in turn said: “When we return home we will insist on Germany’s efforts in stopping this war and continuing relations with Russia”.  Any shelling is clearly stated to be by Ukrainian forces, while the Germans are reported as saying that the major German media do not give the public “a true picture” of what is happening.  The MPs, however, told militant leader Denis Pushilin that they would pass on the message of the militants’ commitment to implementing the Minsk Protocol. 

Does it matter?

We do not much care if celebrities use charity shows as a form of PR, and if  urgently needed medication reaches people in Horlivka, then perhaps we should overlook the clear breach of Ukrainian law with the German MPs having entered Ukraine illegally via the militant-controlled part of the border with Russia. 

It is harder to find the MPs’ willingness to engage in overt lying and propaganda acceptable.  The German newspaper Tagesspiegel reports that two German MPs tried to visit Moscow in May this year.  Hunko had no problem, whereas Russia refused entry to a CDU MP, Hans-Georg Wellmann.  It is Hunko who can be relied upon to oblige by repeating Moscow’s line, for example, by demanding recognition of Crimea “as part of Russia”. 

Both Hunko and Gehrcke provided pro-Russian propaganda together with their aid.  They were silent about crucial reasons for the dire situation in Donbas, which includes the fact that in September ‘LNR’ ordered Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)  and all but one western aid organization to leave the Luhansk oblast.  A month later, ‘DNR’ did the same, claiming that MSF, a Nobel prize-winning NGO, had been banned “because of its participation in gathering defence date and illegal supplies of psychotropic substances”.  They are also alleged to have carried out “psychological training among the population of front-line regions knowingly causing social disorientation”. 

While it is to be hoped that specific aid will reach those most in need, there have been repeated reports over the last year that ‘humanitarian aid’ ends up being sold to those who have the money. 

Russia’s so-called ‘humanitarian convoys’ have long ceased to arouse interest in the west, but each of the 45 or so has been used for propaganda purposes by the ‘republics’’ official websites. 

Realna Gazeta recently pointed out that the trucks are being sent with far less than they could carry.  Why it asks, is Russia doing this, when it could save nearly a third in petrol, car and driver resources?   There does not seem to be any rational reason linked with transportation issues.  The newspaper suggests that maybe they just don’t know how to count money in Russia’s Emergencies Ministry.  Or there’s some other reason for apparently superfluous trucks to be sent to the ‘republics’ and back again. 

Some of the purposes have emerged over the last year.  A video posted in early January apparently shows weapons being unloaded from a truck, and there have been repeated suggestions that arms, fuel and supplies needed for the military offensive are being transported in ‘humanitarian convoy’ trucks.  What is taken back, equally illegally, back into Russia can only be speculated upon.   Following the militants’ rejection of aid from Médecins Sans Frontières, purely humanitarian aims – whether for Russia in sending its convoys, or for its obliging German Bundestag friends, need not be suspected.  

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