On Friday, Russia sent a supply column of more than 200 trucks rumbling into Ukraine and then, the next day, back out again. Since the Ukraine crisis began, Moscow has done many dangerous and deadly things. But this convoy ranks as one of the oddest. Until now, Russia has discreetly supplied the pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine with tanks, rockets, and other heavy equipment. This time, however, Russia invited reporters to view a fleet of vehicles violating the border. Why? The question becomes even more perplexing when you consider that, according to the BBC, many of the trucks were “mostly empty.”
Russia itself described the convoy as a humanitarian act, designed to carry necessary supplies (including baby food) to the shrinking Russian-controlled enclave in eastern Ukraine. But while Russian state media broadcast video of the trucks driving toward Ukraine, they did not bother with images of the trucks unloading their aid to grateful recipients. It’s as if they didn’t much care whether their propaganda convinced anyone or not. Their coverage leaves the impression that so publicly violating the border was the end in itself.
Russia started with the so-called “little green men”—Russian soldiers without insignia on their green uniforms—then proceeded with uniforms with epaulets and the annexation of Crimea. Russia has been the force behind, and on the ground, with the separatists in eastern Ukraine.
It is an invasion that is already well in place.
The comments above are from an August 18 interview with Strobe Talbott, a longtime Russia expert and the current president of the Brookings Institution. Talbott identifies a fact of this crisis that cannot be repeated often enough: Throughout, Russia has pursued a policy of escalation, acting more aggressively and more visibly from month to month to month. Russia escalated the conflict after the annexation of Crimea. It escalated when Ukraine finally began to fight back against the pro-Russian militias that seized cities in the east. It escalated even as the casualty count rose from zero to hundreds to now more than 2,000. It escalated despite global shock after the shootdown of a Malaysia Airlines flight killed almost 300 citizens of 10 countries. It’s escalating again now.