Covid19 used to block OSCE monitors while Russia continues bringing war to Ukraine by night
The Russian-controlled militants in Donbas are actively using coronavirus quarantine restrictions as an excuse for denying access to OSCE monitors, while Russia continues its secret night convoys across the border quite unimpeded. Even if there is no direct proof that the most recently spotted cargo and military-type vehicles brought military technology, ammunition or other instruments of death into occupied Ukraine, it is reasonable to ask why else such movements would be at night, on dirt roads in places near there are no border crossing facilities.
Recent reports of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission [SMM] drones coming under gunfire in non-government controlled Donbas may have nothing to do with the convoys, but this would not be the first time that the long-range unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] had been jammed or downed after sighting military hardwire crossing into militant-controlled Ukraine from Russia.
Russia has never stopped trying to deny its active military and other involvement in the Donbas war and its control of the two proxy ‘Donbas and Luhansk people’s republics’. During the preliminary hearings into Ukraine’s suit against Russia at the UN International Court of Justice in March 2017, in part over alleged violation of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, one of the Russian representatives claimed that the militants’ weapons and military hardware were stockpiles inherited by Ukraine in 1991 from the Soviet Army”, as well as “the retreating Ukrainian army”.
Russia failed to convince the Court at the Hague that the latter did not have jurisdiction over this claim, and Ukraine now has the chance to prove violation of the Convention, including through direct supplies to the pseudo ‘republics’. All such evidence is also important for the International Criminal Court which is still investigating to what degree the conflict in Donbas constitutes an international armed conflict.
The following are doubtless not the only convoys of military trucks that travel by night in places where they are clearly not supposed to be observed, but even the number of those which have been spotted is incriminating.
In its daily report on 10 June, the OSCE SMM reported that its long-range UAV had, on the night of 7-8 June spotted three covered cargo trucks on the southern edge of Manych (76km east of Donetsk),. One of the vehicles was driving along a dirt road towards the border with Russia, stopping around 200 metres from the border. This was in the area which is not under Ukrainian government control, and where there are no border crossing facilities. The UAV also detected a car driving away from the border towards these cargo trucks in Manych.
Two kilometres south-east of Stepne, the UAV “also spotted nine probable vehicles near a tree line near about 160m west of a dirt road leading to the border with the Russian Federation”.
The above was nothing in comparison with the flurry of activity involving military vehicles during the evening from 4-5 June. On 6 June, OSCE reported that its UAV had seen “a convoy of trucks entering Ukraine and another convoy exiting Ukraine on a dirt road, in a non-government-controlled area of Luhansk region near the border with the Russian Federation where there are no border crossing facilities.”
The first sighting was at 20.40 on 4 June when the “UAV spotted at least 12 probable military-type trucks and an escort light utility vehicle in a stationary convoy pointing east on a dirt track, and five persons walking in between the trucks.” All of this was around 120 metres west of the border with Russia and, needless to say, “in an area where there are no border crossing facilities”.
Soon afterwards, three other military-type vehicles and another vehicle joined the convoy after arriving on the same dirt track from a westerly direction. Then, between 20.52 and 21.22 two of the military-type trucks crossed the border out of Ukraine, with this leaving 14 military-type trucks, vehicles and escort remaining stationary. Shortly afterwards, two light utility vehicles entered Ukraine and went up to the 14-military-type vehicles and escort. One stopped near the convoy, while the other continued on, via the dirt track to near Cheremshyne.
At around 22.10, a second convoy of five military-type trucks entered Ukraine, passed by the stationary convoy and moved westwards.
All of this was clearly coordinated, with the five military-type trucks being joined at 22.55 by three probable military-type vehicles and two others which had arrived from an easterly direction. This convoy, now made up of ten vehicles, eventually arrived in militant-controlled Luhansk.
The other convoy had, in the meantime, left Ukraine via the uncontrolled border with the Russian Federation.
This appears to have been the first such sightings, at least in this area, since early October 2019.
In the night of 3 October 2019, a UAV detected “spotted three probable trucks arriving on a dirt road from the direction of Manych and leading to the border in a place without border crossing facilities. One remained at the border, a second crossed into Russia, while the third, which was probably a KamAZ military truck, returned westward. The same UAV also spotted “six vehicles (possible trucks) arriving in a convoy from an easterly direction on a dirt road and stopping near agricultural buildings, about 1.7km east of Cheremshyne.”
The UAV sighting during the night of 22 August 2019 was more modest, though still of note given the fact that there were two, possibly three, cargo trucks travelling between an area adjacent to the border with Russia and where there is no border crossing facility and a junction outside Manych.
On that occasion eight trucks were spotted by the UAV, with three probably tanker trucks, and four with trailers attached. They were stationary and on a dirt road close to the border with Russia, around two kilometres south-east of non-government-controlled Stepne.
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.
On the night from 30 May to 1 June, an SMM drone saw three military type trucks on an unpaved road near Cheremshyne (two 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:
It should be stressed that these are only the secretive night convoys. Since August 2014, Russia has been bringing effectively unchecked convoys by day, claiming these to be ‘humanitarian’. There are reasons for believing this not to be the case. Russia also made sure that the OSCE Mission’s mandate was seriously limited (see: Russian tanks entering Ukraine that the OSCE is mandated to miss )