OSCE drone captures latest Russian incursion into their western neighbor
On Friday, August 10, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine published a video of two cargo truck convoys crossing the border between Russia and Ukraine along a path that was not monitored by Russian or Ukrainian border control. This footage marked the first time that the OSCE SMM to Ukraine has published video footage showing an illegal border crossing between Russia and Ukraine, though the monitors frequently reported observing illegal crossings in their daily text reports.
The OSCE Mission’s Findings
The video is not the only interesting element the OSCE SMM to Ukraine’s findings from its overnight monitoring of the Ukraine-Russia border region. The full report from the August 9 daily report, which preceded the publication of the video footage, is worth repeating in its entirety due to the density of information:
An SMM long-range UAV spotted convoys of trucks entering and exiting Ukraine via a dirt track where there are no border crossing facilities in the middle of the night. At 22:15 on 7 August, an SMM long-range UAV spotted a convoy of eight canvas-covered six-wheeled cargo trucks (five KamAZ-4310 and the rest undetermined) travelling east along a road near Chystiakove (non-government-controlled, 62km east of Donetsk). Near Manych (non-government-controlled, 76km east of Donetsk), approximately 3.5km before reaching Ukraine’s border with the Russian Federation, the convoy turned east onto a dirt track that leads across the border. The UAV then spotted a second convoy (consisting of an off-road vehicle (UAZ) leading six canvas-covered six-wheeled KamAZ cargo trucks and a box body truck) travelling westwards from the border with the Russian Federation along the same dirt track. The two convoys passed each other about five minutes after the second convoy entered Ukraine. At around 23:25, the UAV spotted the first convoy exiting Ukraine via the same dirt track. The second convoy was later joined by two additional KamAZ cargo trucks also coming from the direction of the border with the Russian Federation. Each of the convoys separately stopped for about three minutes next to an off-road vehicle that was parked in a field along the above-mentioned dirt track, 1.7km from the border, and again next to two trucks parked at the intersection of the dirt track and the paved road (3.5km from where the convoys crossed the border). At both spots, the occupants of the parked vehicles (the off-road vehicle in the field and the two trucks at the intersection) can be seen interacting with the drivers of each convoy’s lead vehicle. The convoy seen heading westward into Ukraine was observed driving west and finally parking at the southern outskirts of Khrustalnyi (formerly Krasnyi Luch, non-government-controlled, 56km south-west of Luhansk) at 01:16 on 8 August.
On 7 August, the SMM for the first time observed what it assessed to be an improvised camp consisting of six armoured reconnaissance vehicles (BRDM variants) and 15 military-type trucks (two KamAZ variants, four Ural variants, two KrAZ variants, six ZIL variants and one of undetermined manufacture, all painted in shades of green), one bearing white-on-black licence plates with the prefix “DK” in Cyrillic letters, 2km east of Cheremshyne (non-government-controlled, 59km south-east of Luhansk). The vehicles were parked close to one another and camouflage netting was strung from one of them. About 1.6km east of the camp, there is an unguarded road crossing into the Russian Federation which is barricaded with a metal bar.
Analyzing the Route
@DFRLab created a map with the approximate route (blue line) described by the OSCE SMM to Ukraine, with areas observed in the YouTube video (yellow pins) marked along the way. Additional points of interested are noted.
The footage starts with a convoy at Savur-Mohyla, an elevated, strategically important location south of Snizhne in the Donetsk Oblast.
Later, the convoy that departed from Savur-Mohyla (Ukraine) passed by a convoy that departed from Russia. The OSCE SMM to Ukraine described how drivers from the two convoys interacted, showing that the routes of these vehicles was coordinated between Russia and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). The point at which the two convoys crossed each other was only about two kilometers from the border.
It is important to note that these convoys traveled dirt roads in order to avoid the official, legal checkpoint on the Russia-Ukraine border. Since 2014, the Russian government has sent hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal convoys into Ukrainian territory, whether it be military equipment, servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces, volunteer militants whose transit into Ukraine was facilitated by Russia, or “aid” sent in large trucks (which are sent through “official” checkpoints, but still violate Ukrainian sovereignty).
Russian Camp Near the Border
Considering the point of crossing and the directions of the convoys, the likely destination was an ammunition depot inside the Russian Federation. By using satellite imagery from Planet, we observed that the base was still active on August 7 — the day of the convoy. On August 11, a few days after the convoy, new wear appeared around the north-eastern and south-western perimeters of the ammunition storage facility, indicating high traffic.
A satellite image taken in March 2017 on Google Earth shows the main elements of this base, including huge ammunition caches and some barracks for Russian military personnel.
While Russia no longer sends servicemen and heavy military equipment to Ukraine with the same volume and frequency as they did in 2014 and 2015, this new footage from the OSCE SMM to Ukraine adds even more evidence showing how Russia continues to provide vital material aid to the supposedly independent “republics” in eastern Ukraine. Despite the fact that the second Minsk accords sought to return control of its own borders to Ukraine, Russia clearly treats the border and portions of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as extensions of its own territory.
Russia sending mysterious convoys into Ukraine under the cover of nightfall is hardly surprising, but the OSCE SMM to Ukraine has made a series of important observations with its long-range drones through the summer. Though Russian-led separatists have attempted to disable or destroy these drones — including by firing a missile at one in the Donetsk Oblast — the OSCE has become more aggressive in providing details of Russia’s ongoing role in the war in the Donbas. Later this week, we will provide further analysis of other findings made by the OSCE SMM to Ukraine and its drones, particularly in recent reports of advanced Russian electronic warfare systems in non-government-controlled Ukrainian territory.
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