Zack Beauchamp and Max Fisher asked the sort of question on Friday that needs an answer: “Did Russia and Ukraine just start a war?” The answer probably isn’t as obvious as it should be.
Wars often come with some kind of qualifier – there are, among other things, hot wars, cold wars, open wars, and civil wars. Do any of these apply to developments in Ukraine? The answer obviously matters, but is surprisingly tough to nail down. From the Vox report:
On Friday, as a Russian “aid convoy” of 280 trucks neared the Ukrainian border, NATO said that a separate “incursion” of Russian military forces had crossed into Ukraine. The Russian forces are reportedly in eastern Ukrainian territory held by Russia-backed separatist rebels, according to NATO and Ukrainian government officials. Some reports suggest that there may be open fighting between Ukrainian military forces and the Russian incursion, but it’s far from clear whether that’s true or what precisely is happening on the ground.
So where’s this “aid convoy” now? As of this morning, the trucks, with unknown contents, are stuck. There were talks over the weekend about Ukrainian border guards being able to inspect the trucks, “but negotiations on technicalities were continuing.”
If the trucks are simply carrying aid supplies, it’s not clear why negotiations would be necessary.
In the meantime, the New York Times reported yesterday that Ukrainian troops “moved into the heart of the separatist hub of Luhansk for the first time, officials said, chipping at one of the cornerstones of the pro-Russia rebels’ disintegrating virtual state.” The Ukrainian advance is “raising pressure” on Vladimir Putin, who sometimes tries to maintain the pretense that his government isn’t backing the rebels.
Kevin Drum added:
In one sense, this is nothing new. Ukraine has been saying for months that Moscow is backing pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and more recently Ukraine began an aggressive fighting to expel them. Still, this does appear to be an escalation. Between the mysterious aid convoy and the military column that may or may not have been largely destroyed by Ukrainian forces, warfare is indeed becoming a little more open every day.
Blake Hounshell noted, somewhat sardonically, “Maybe it’s just me, but open warfare between Ukraine and Russia seems like a BFD.” Add it to your list of stories worth watching.
Update: The Associated Press reported this morning, “ ‘Dozens’ of civilians were killed in a shelling attack Monday on a convoy of refugees trying to flee war-torn eastern Ukraine, a top Ukrainian official said. Both the government and the rebels traded blame for the attack.”