Did Russia-Ukraine turn into a shooting war last night?
NATO and Ukraine said that a column of military vehicles crossed into Ukraine from Russia Thursday night, and Ukraine later said that most of them had been destroyed by artillery fire. It was not clear whether Russian soldiers or rebel separatists were driving the vehicles.
President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine said in a statement on his website that he could confirm some Western news reports that the column had crossed into Ukraine last night.
“The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night,” the statement said.
In Copenhagen, the secretary-general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that the alliance had detected an “incursion” of vehicles from Russia last night, adding: “What we have seen last night is the continuation of what we have seen for some time.”
It seems unlikely that this incident is actually going to start a war, but obviously it doesn’t help. The fact that Russia didn’t immediately respond with force to the reported destruction of its military vehicles suggests strongly that this was a convoy of vehicles that had been given to the separatists and not a Russian invasion force manned by Russian soldiers. For that matter, we’re relying on the Ukrainian military’s assurance that it fired unguided artillery near the border at night and didn’t accidentally hit something on Russian territory, which would be fine if Ukraine hadn’t already accidentally fired over the border on at least one occasion. NATO is backing their story, but NATO isn’t exactly an impartial observer here. At any rate, Russia has probably (allegedly?) been supplying military vehicles and equipment to the rebels for some time, but presumably now the Ukrainians have advanced close enough to the border to try to put a stop to such things.
Meanwhile, that suspect Russian humanitarian aid convoy is still stalled in Russia, waiting to be inspected before it can be allowed over the border; it seems now the Ukrainians and the Red Cross are waiting for an inventory from the Russians before they can conduct their inspection. But a Ukrainian military spokesman says that some aid from Kiev has reached Luhansk, so that’s something at least. The Russians reportedly allowed media to inspect their aid trucks, and the BBC then kind of hilariously reported that “many of the trucks were ‘almost empty.'” According to Vox, before the BBC got to inspect the trucks they made a (purely coincidental, I’m sure) stop at a Russian military base in the border region. You don’t suppose they unloaded anything there, do you?