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Russian Humanitarian Aid? Past Recipients Say There's No Such Thing

Russian soldiers at a checkpoint near the Georgian village of Nadarbazevi in October 2008.
Russian soldiers at a checkpoint near the Georgian village of Nadarbazevi in October 2008.

Nearly 300 Russian trucks are headed for the Ukrainian border. Moscow says they're filled with humanitarian aid. But many others are deeply skeptical, particularly countries in the former Soviet bloc with their own bitter memories of Russian "assistance" in the form of military invasions.

Georgia, 1993

A year into the brutal 1992-93 Georgian-Abkhaz war, Russia sent a so-called humanitarian-aid column to the separatist city of Tkvarcheli, which Georgian military forces were holding under siege.

Living conditions in Tkvarcheli were desperate, and Georgian officials agreed to assistance by Russia, which had adopted an officially neutral stance during the war despite giving tacit support to the separatists.

But Moscow, angered by a Georgian attack on a Russian transport helicopter carrying more than 50 people, secretly shipped more than medicine and food to Tkvarcheli. It also provided missiles, submachine guns, and other heavy artillery to the city -- allowing the newly armed Abkhaz separatists to eventually fight down the Georgian military, take the regional capital, Sukhumi, and declare de facto independence.

The Russian official in charge of the humanitarian aid mission? Then-head of the Emergency Situations Ministry Sergei Shoigu -- now Russian defense minister.

Czechoslovakia, 1968

Like earlier incursions into Moscow's Eastern European satellites, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was a clear-cut military operation. Some Kremlin officials, however, might have argued cynically that the mission was humanitarian in nature because it aimed to save Czechoslovakia from itself and the Prague Spring reforms of then-leader Alexander Dubcek.

On August 20, 1968, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops simultaneously crossed the border and air landed in Prague, securing the capital and the country in just two days. One-hundred and eight Czechs and Slovaks were killed in the operation.

Hungary, 1956

Under the thaw of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, satellite countries like Poland and Hungary felt encouraged to push the boundaries of their own Communist systems.

In Hungary, this resulted in mass anti-Soviet demonstrations in October 1956 under the leadership of reformist Prime Minister Imre Nagy.

Within days, Soviet troops had overrun the country, with 1,000 tanks entering the capital Budapest. Some 30,000 people were killed in the crackdown.

Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia, 1940

In 1939, Moscow pressured the Baltic states into signing mutual assistance pacts granting the Soviet government the right to establish military bases in all three countries.

The Soviet Union used the agreements to stage near-simultaneous invasions, entering Lithuania on June 16, 1940, and Latvia and Estonia a day later.

Within days, 500,000 Red Army troops were occupying the Baltic region, having seized all commercial and military vessels and grounding the region's aircraft. Mass deportations and political repressions of "anti-Soviet elements" followed.

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing?

Other observers have poked fun at the notion of Russia, which staunchly opposed the establishment of aid corridors in war-torn Syria, evoking the spirit of humanitarian assistance anywhere -- particularly in eastern Ukraine, where much of the civilian suffering can be attributed to Russia's support of separatist rebels.

Others have simply enjoyed the notion of how a Russian convoy might sneak itself into Ukraine, whether by draping a tank in Red Cross-style emblems....

... smuggling guns across the border...

... or marching boldly in like the Trojan horses many suspect they are.

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