Now imagine the scenario.
Ukraine’s allowing and encouraging tens of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries to cross the Ukrainian border into Russia every year. Ukraine’s allowing those soldiers and mercenaries to enter Russia in the full knowledge they are fighting against the Russian government. Naturally, Russia would be enraged and would no doubt seek international assistance to help stop this blatant act of war by Ukraine.
To experience the reality of daily life on the Ukrainian/Russian border, we need to swap that scenario around. We have independent proof that it’s Russia, who is openly allowing military personnel to enter Ukraine to fight against the Ukrainian government. That proof comes via The Organisation for Security & Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
OSCE monitors at the Russian border crossing in Donetsk.
Since Aug 2014, Russia’s only allowed the OSCE to carry out 24/7 monitoring at just two Russian border crossings. Bordering Ukraine’s eastern Oblast (province) of Luhansk, these are located at the Russian towns of Donetsk & Gukovo. Cynically, Russia has banned OSCE monitors from taking photos or film footage at the border checkpoints. But despite Russia’s desire to hide visual evidence, it’s sending military personnel into Ukraine, the OSCE take daily notes of all activity at the crossings and record the different types of vehicles, civilians, and those people seen wearing some form of military uniform.
From Aug 2014 to 31st Dec 2019, at Donetsk & Gukovo, they’ve observed the impressive figure of 38,379 people dressed in “military-style-outfits” entering and exiting Ukraine via Russia. I collated the figure from their weekly reports > OSCE Weekly Reports.
These are only those people in military uniform which monitors were able to observe. In their weekly reports, they stress “some made use of private vehicles, buses or minivans, making it more difficult for the observer teams (OTs) to observe their movement across the border, especially since some of the private vehicles had tinted windows, and buses and minivans had drawn curtains.” This means it’s highly likely the OSCE have only seen a small fraction of those soldiers using these two crossings.
Russian dead and wounded return the the mother land.
The OSCE also recorded details of hundreds of ambulances & funeral vehicles crossing the border, including trucks and vans marked with Cargo 200; this a Russian military label for the transportation of soldiers’ dead bodies.
Truck marked with Cargo 200 label inside occupied eastern Ukraine.
For more detail on the OSCE mission at the Donetsk & Gokovo crossings, listen to a recording by Paul Picard, the head of the OSCE’s Observer Mission at these Russian checkpoints.
OSCE January 2020 Trends graph for people seen wearing “military-style-outfits” entering and exiting Ukraine via Russia. Blue is entering Russia. Red Ukraine.
Wounded soldiers seen crossing into Russia from Ukraine.
OT – Observation Team. BCP – Border Check Point. RF – Russian Federation.
Sept 2014 OSCE reported: “Throughout the week, OTs observed a considerable increase of young people dressed in military style crossing back and forth at the BCP. OTs also observed that some of these people were visibly wounded, crossing back into the RF with white bandages and/or on crutches. OTs also observed transfers of more seriously wounded persons by ambulances. Some people dressed in military style were accompanying the wounded. During the reporting period, OTs have observed 149 persons in military clothing who crossed the border – individually or in groups –predominantly from Ukraine to the RF.”
Ukraine left. Russia right. Bordering Ukraine’s Luhansk Oblast, locations of Russian border towns of Donetsk & Gukovo.
Soldiers crossing the border, tell the OSCE they collect their weapons in Ukraine.
August 2014: OSCE reported: “Throughout the week, the OTs noticed a net increase of young people (both men and women) wearing military-style dress crossing the border in both directions but did not observe any weapons among these groups. OTs had regular interactions with supporters of the self-proclaimed republics. Some discussed openly with the OSCE while others expressed their total mistrust toward the OSCE. At both Border Crossing Points, some supporters of the self-proclaimed republics explained that they are not allowed to cross the border with weapons. However, on the other side, there are organized places where they receive weapons, ammunition and equipment and are dispatched to their assigned areas on the Ukrainian side. Upon return, they hand over weapons, ammunition and other military equipment and cross back into the Russian Federation. In the case of Gukovo, there is even a firing range to calibre the newly-received weapons before continuing to the frontlines. As described in previous reports, on a daily basis OTs hear such range-like shootings on Ukrainian territory at a short distance from the Gukovo Border Crossing Point.”
As I said, 38,379 is indeed an impressive number.
But, when you consider Russia’s had total control over 409km of Ukraine’s eastern border since 2014. And this control includes the full use of at least another eight formal crossing points and numerous other smaller remote ones Russia’s illegally reopened/created; we’re probably talking hundreds of thousands of soldiers/mercenaries crisscrossing back and forth across the border since 2014, the majority unseen by the OSCE. Also worth noting, Russia also controls two rail crossings into eastern Ukraine.
Red star: Russian border town of Donetsk.
Blue star: Russian border town of Gukovo.
Green stars: Area between them marks the 409km of Ukraine’s border currently under the full control of Russia and Russian-led forces in Ukraine.
Note: Russia hasn’t allowed the OSCE to monitor any of the border crossings into Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. Presumably because most of the fighting is in this Donetsk region.
Each week during the day, the OSCE try to monitor some of the other border crossings into Ukraine. But due to travel time restrictions and Russian-led forces in Ukraine stopping them before they get there, or ordering them to leave the area, they rarely spend much more than 30 minutes observing each one. Especially at night, this means military personnel and hardware can easily cross into Ukraine from Russia.
The number of people seen wearing military clothing crossing at Donetsk & Gukovo has reduced in 2019/2020. The OSCE report the bulk of them cross the border on foot. With the fighting still very much on-going and the military presence of Russian-led forces inside Ukraine still high, this suggests most soldiers/mercenaries are now escaping observation by using vehicles.
Feb 4th 2020: Situation report.
Details Feb 3rd shelling by Russian-led forces inside Ukraine and shows the extent of the occupied territory in Ukraine’s Donetsk & Luhansk Oblasts. The six highlighted border crossings (red circles) controlled by Russia are the larger ones.