Whither the convoy? A fateful decision for Putin and his advisors

The humanitarian convoy that left the suburbs on Moscow on Tuesday did not, as expected, continue down the M2 highway straight for the border crossing to the north of Kharkiv. Instead, it took a left turn in Tula and proceeded on to Voronezh, where it has remained since. From Voronezh, if the intent is to deliver aid to Luhansk, it can either head southwest toward the Shebekino crossing near Kharkiv, or it can head south toward the border crossings in eastern Luhansk oblast that are still controlled by the separatists (see map).

voronezh to luhansk

Currently, Putin is meeting with his national security brain trust at the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. It seems very likely that they are making some very tough, and fateful, decisions about how proceed on Ukraine. My sense is the convoy will be a bellweather for Putin’s intentions. He has three choices: (1) send the convoy back to Moscow (which would be a humiliating climb down and hence strikes me as unlikely; (2) have it proceed on to Kharkiv and work out an arrangement with Kyiv for transferring the goods in the convoy to neutral or Ukrainian trucks for eventual delivery for Luhansk (which would be a rather less humiliating climb down, but still probably difficult for the Kremlin to swallow); or (3) send the convoy south toward the border crossings into Luhansk oblast and undertake a unilateral “humanitarian” intervention, which would be treated as an invasion by the West and an act of war by Kyiv.

I was extremely puzzled by the convoy maneuver yesterday and remain puzzled today. Its primary consequence appears to have been to present the Kremlin with even less room to maneuver that it had before.

At any rate, where it goes after leaving Voronezh may tell us whether Putin and his advisors have decided to go to war with Ukraine.