Russia’s weapons of Ukraine’s destruction were not "found in Donbas mines"
Does Russia think that any old lie will do and, if so, could it be right? The country’s representative at the International Court of Justice in the Hague on 7 March, claimed that the main source for the vast amounts of weapons and ammunition used by fighters of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [DPR, LPR] “are stockpiles inherited by Ukraine in 1991 from the Soviet Army”, as well as “the retreating Ukrainian army”.
The assertion elicited incredulous gasps, humorous Internet memes and one or two swift fact-checking articles from, for example, InformNapalm. In general, it passed unnoticed, as do many other such obvious lies. The western media need simple formulations and generally opt for a ‘Kyiv accuses’ and ‘Moscow denies’ format, with that regardless of the amount of direct confirmation of the accusations, including from journalists providing live coverage.
InformNapalm, Bellingcat and other investigative journalists have provided compelling proof of tanks, missiles and other sophisticated weaponry used by the militants in Donbas. Almost all post-date the Soviet era and have never been in the possession of the Ukrainian army.
In February 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary was challenged by a Ukrainian journalist over a report on Russia’s TV Rossiya-1 that the Donbas militants have 700 tanks, three times more than the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Dmitry Peskov responded that you “could just as well ask Kyiv where the tanks are from”. He had no information, he claimed, adding that “of course they’re not from Russia”.
Since the area in question borders only Russia and government-controlled Ukraine, the denial could only have been more absurd had he also suggested that the 700 tanks had emerged from Donbas mines.
Not reasonable deduction alone
Automatic denial mode has its cynical logic. The media are on the hunt for new stories, and will not usually remind their audience that they themselves were able to witness columns of Russian military trucks heading into Ukraine. There were numerous western journalists on the ground in Donbas, and in Rostov, the Russian oblast which borders with Ukraine in August 2014. There was particular tension at the time, with Russia preparing its first so-called ‘humanitarian convoy’ which it was insisting on sending into the war zone without proper checks or permission. That first convoy may well have been a ploy to distract attention from other military movements.
Poland has had good reasons for rejecting such convoys, and the Polish media gave wide coverage over several evenings to both the 280 trucks of the ‘convoy’ and to the endless columns of military trucks which were also headed to the border under militant control.
There is considerable footage, both at night and during the day, filmed by Wojciech Bojanowski, TVN 24’s correspondent in the Rostov oblast, close to the border. It clearly shows Russian armed personnel carriers, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons turning onto a road leading to the border. Artyleria, wozy opancerzone i broń przeciwlotnicza. Ruchy Rosjan przed kamerą TVN24 (four separate clips)
Bojanowski acknowledges that there are no photos of the actual crossing, however there is a steady flow of vehicles to the border and shots taken by the militants where you can see, for example, a BTR-80a transporter which the Ukrainian military do not have. The next day, Aug 19 Bojanowski reported further movement towards the border, with many trucks this time carrying tanks. On Aug 22, NATO reported that the Russian military had moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory and had been using them to fire at Ukrainian forces.
Vast amounts of military technology were clearly taken into Ukraine at that time. They may well have been supplemented since by 90 supposedly ‘humanitarian’ convoys which never undergo proper checks.
The amount of evidence is overwhelming. Dr Igor Sutyagin, in a briefing paper for the Royal United Services Institute [RUSI] on Russian forces in Ukraine writes that the “first phase of large-scale incursions by regular Russian troops commenced on 11 August 2014 and has involved a substantial array of forces (see Table 1)”. He put the figure for direct Russian military personnel as up to “10 thousand at the peak of direct Russian involvement in the middle of December 2014.”
All of this is on another country’s territory without any declaration of war.
Sutyagin, in fact, views this as effectively the second act of direct military aggression by the Russian military. He says that Ukraine’s operational successes in late June and early July 2014 first prompted Russian artillery fire from within Russian territory, targeted against advancing Ukrainian troops on their own soil, from mid-July onwards”.
Considerable evidence of this shelling from Russia has since been set out in a report by the International Partnership for Human Rights, and also by Bellingcat in a report entitled ‘Putin’s undeclared war’.
It was after Russia’s deployment from August 2014 of military servicemen, rather than only mercenaries, that the first undeniable reports began emerging in Russia of military deaths in Donbas. These reports – and the deaths – continue to this day.
The first ‘humanitarian convoy’ proved effective at distracting international attention from other illegal incursions, while also serving as a useful damp squib. Whether those 280 trucks were emptied before journalists got a chance to see them, or were always half empty remains unclear, but journalists unfortunately largely lost interest in the subject. It is likely that subsequent loads - there have been 60 - have been far more menacing. A video posted in January 2015 showed militants unloading what they termed ‘New Year gifts’ for Ukraine’s President and other leaders from another such convoy. Both the comments from the militants, and the long crates visible, make it clear that the men are unloading weapons. Neither these convoys nor the many vehicles which cross into Ukraine from Russia (or return) are checked by the Ukrainian authorities or the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. The numbers entering and leaving, even the specific vehicles, ofte do not match up and it seems likely that this is a way of permanently supplying the militants and Russian forces with ammunition.
None of this makes breaking news anymore, but the war and the killing continue as an immediate and tragic result.