The text was originally published in Russia Beyond the Headlines
Negotiations on the fate of the Russian humanitarian convoy of nearly 300 trucks, which has already been on the Russo-Ukrainian border for nearly a week, are drawing to a close. The sides have agreed on all issues related to customs clearances, and observers have not found any weaponry at all in the trucks.
According to Red Cross spokeswoman Viktoria Zotikova, the only thing that remains is to obtain security guarantees from both sides, and the relevant direct negotiations are currently taking place.
Zotikova declined to comment on the course of negotiations and emerging complexities. However, according to unofficial sources, the problem is on the Ukrainian side, or rather it is in the subdivisions of the National Guard made up of nationalist irregulars, who do not always obey the official authorities.
The Ukrainian military located in the cauldron south of Lugansk controls part of the road from the Izvarino border crossing to the capital of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic and is fully capable of attacking the convoy (militiamen warned several days ago that the Aydar National Guard battalion had been given the order to attack the convoy).
However, it is possible that this obstacle will be removed in the near future - either by negotiation or force. At the moment, militiamen are actively engaged in liquidating the cauldron and the only reason they have not yet been able to eradicate it is because one of the most combat-ready units in the Ukrainian army, the Lvov 80th airmobile brigade, is located in it alongside the Aydar battalion.
Meanwhile, some experts believe that the successful passage of such a large humanitarian convoy could hand Russia the trump card and, possibly, contribute to the end of the civil war.
Sergei Markedonov, a Russian political scientist and specialist on post-Soviet space, told an RBTH correspondent that “if the convoy reaches its destination, it will turn out that the ‘bloody Putin regime’ is taking more care of the Ukrainian citizens than Kiev. This is already creating discomfort for President Petro Poroshenko.”
From the political point of view, the convoy strengthens Russia's bargaining position. Moscow is now trying to persuade Poroshenko towards the beginning of a negotiation process and the federalization of Ukraine - steps which could not only end the war but give neutral status to Ukraine (in which anti-Russian sentiments in the west will be balanced by the pro-Russian forces in the east).
And Moscow's key argument is that there is a humanitarian catastrophe in the Donbass that the actions of the Ukrainian army (which failed in its execution of a blitzkrieg and has been drawn into positional battles using artillery) is only exacerbating.
However, first Russia must prove to the world that it is a fact that there is a humanitarian catastrophe.
Finally, the successful passage of the humanitarian convoy will play in the favor of those forces within the European Union that advocate a compromise with Russia.
"The European countries are no less interested than Russia in resolving this conflict as soon as possible. However, trapped between Washington and Moscow, they are in an extremely difficult political position and, especially after the incident with the Malaysian Boeing, are in need of additional arguments," Timofei Bordachev, director of the Center for Comprehensive International and European Studies at the Higher School of Economics, told RBTH.
The US House of Representatives and Senate overwhelmingly adopted a Russia, Iran and North Korea sanctions bill. It predictably provoked a harsh response from Russian officials. The head of the Federation Council’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, called for a response that would be painful for Americans. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Washington is “a source of threat.”
Certainly, the two are not on the same page in Syria and some other Middle Eastern matters; they have historically adversarial relations in the South Caucasus; and they have a conflicting modern record of Turkish support for Islamist and nationalist movements in the North Caucasus. But be it bilateral trade relations or pipeline geopolitics, instead of keeping in line with its NATO allies Turkey is more savvy in following its own national interests than many Western diplomats and analysts would like to think.
In addition to Russian military airstrikes, Syrian President Assad’s visit to Moscow and the continuing Normandy talks over Ukraine dominated the Russian foreign policy agenda in October. October marked the first month of the Russian airstrikes in Syria against terrorist targets and also saw positive developments in the diplomatic process around Ukraine and Syria. Given these two ongoing international issues, some other important foreign policy events have been overshadowed.
The “Minsk process” has created a chance for Donbass to become a new proving ground for unrecognized statehood. Different options, ranging from Chechnya and Serbian Krajina to the Transnistrian experience, may be possible. Or the region may build a unique Donbass model.