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Amid tensions at Russia-Ukraine border, diplomats push for calm

August 16, 2014 at 5:53 PM EST
Tensions are high at the Russia-Ukraine border after reports that the Ukrainian military destroyed an armed Russian convoy. James Marson from The Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Moscow for the latest on the diplomatic push for calm.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Turning now back overseas, tensions remain high along the border between Ukraine and Russia, after reports yesterday that the Ukrainian military had destroyed an armed Russian convoy that had entered Ukraine.

For more about the conflict and efforts to end it before it escalates further, we’re joined from Moscow via Skype by James Marson of The Wall Street Journal.

So, yesterday there was some confusion about whether or not the event happened at all. The Ukrainians say they did away with a Russian military convoy, the Russians call it a fantasy. What do we know about it?

JAMES MARSON: That’s right. This column of about 20 armored vehicles crossed over the Russian-Ukrainian border Thursday evening, spotted by two British reporters, who say that it snuck around the border posts and entered Ukraine.

Ukraine yesterday said that it had destroyed this armored column. Russia dismissed this as a fantasy, and Ukraine has so far provided no pictures of this.

It roiled the market because everyone was very fearful that this destruction of a Russian column would lead to a wider conflict with Russia and Ukraine, but in fact today Ukraine has tried to play this down and say that this is quite a regular occurrence that Russians keep sending these columns across.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So what’s in their interest to make this up?

JAMES MARSON: Well, Ukraine obviously wants to make it seem like it is having military success against the separatists, it doesn’t want to look like it’s easy for the Russians to send weapons and men into the East.

Ukraine has been fighting this pro-Russian insurgency in essence for around four months. It’s been having significant successes in recent weeks. It’s managed to push the rebels out of the local towns and cities and it wants to keep that momentum going.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about that aid convoy? We’ve seen those pictures of those hundreds of trucks that are waiting on the border are they any closer to getting through?

JAMES MARSON: They seem to be stuck on the border at the moment. That parked up in a hill three miles from the border crossing. The Ukrainians say they’re waiting for paperwork to allow them to cross.

The Russians say that the Ukrainians snuck around to go across. So there’s lots of finger pointing and not a lot of aid getting through.

Ukrainians are also sending their own aid column, which also hasn’t reached its standard recipients, so there are a lot of people, who are in beseeched towns who are waiting for aid and not receiving it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Any advances on the diplomatic front?

JAMES MARSON: The diplomatic front was frozen for a very long time, but now it appears to be coming back to life. The Finnish president, who was in Russia yesterday meeting Vladimir Putin, today he is in Ukraine meeting Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

Tomorrow the French, German, Ukranian and Russian foreign ministers will meet in Berlin. So there seems to be a concerted diplomatic push to find a resolution here.

Now, it could be difficult to find that resolution. Ukraine has been pushing on with its military operation as it seems to feel that it’s on the front and could push the rebels out.

HARI SREENIVASAN: James Marson of The Wall Street Journal joining us via Skype from Moscow, thanks so much.

JAMES MARSON: Thank you.