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Judging from the news that I have access to, it appears as if the residents of Mariupol in the southeast of Ukraine - hundreds of thousands of people - were stuck in a city without fresh water, food, or medicine. Although there are daily promises of "humanitarian corridors" through which civilians could leave, in practice, there have been no reports of anyone successfully evacuating from the city.

Would it be possible for a country or international body to provide humanitarian aid to Mariupol residents by dropping crates of essential supplies from the air, perhaps using unarmed drones? I seem to recall that such supplies were in fact dropped in various locations in Bosnia during the Yugoslav War (although I'm no longer sure who did that, and drones certainly weren't a thing back then).

What kind of political, economic, or other factors are there that prevent such an approach?

[Edit] Sorry I was a bit unclear. I also have the impression that Russia wants, or at least doesn't mind, Mariupol becoming a mass concentration camp. So the question really is, could something like this be done in spite of Russia?

For example, assuming that such an operation would be carried out under a mandate of the UN General Assembly, from a base in (say) Romania or Turkey, and giving Russian observers the opportunity to verify that the supplies involved are indeed humanitarian in nature, would Russia still have plausible justification for shooting down participating aircraft? Or would they do so anyway without plausible justification, even if this definitely exposes their intentions to cause civilian suffering and death?

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  • "...could something like this be done in spite of Russia?" Since Russia allegedly has the air supremacy there, the answer can only be a very likely no. Also this would be more suitable for a military strategy discussion site then.
    – Trilarion
    Mar 12 at 13:15

2 Answers 2

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I answered a slightly different question with

[...] There are a number of requests and suggestions which come down to let's have a war between the West and Russia, so Ukraine doesn't stand alone. They include

  • immediate NATO membership,
  • immediate EU membership,
  • NATO air forces over Ukraine to enforce a no-fly zone,
  • NATO air defense forces in Ukraine to enforce a no-fly zone,
  • NATO ground forces in Ukraine to protect people.

[...] So the proposal comes down to a war between the NATO members and Russia. An entirely understandable request from Ukraine, who are in the war, but countries not yet at war with a major nuclear power might hesitate a bit. [...]

Humanitarian airdrops are on the same list. First, Russia clearly said that they would see NATO forces in Ukraine as a cause for war. And second, NATO would not fly unarmed, unescorted transports into the face of an undamaged Russian air defense. Elsewhere I answered

One can debate going to war over Ukraine, but please do it with open eyes.

What you ask would mean going to war with Russia, and starting a war this way would be a stupid way to start that war. Whatever one thinks about starting that war in principle.

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  • Please could you elaborate upon why this would only be possible by starting a war, i.e. why humanitarian airdrops "are on the same list"? See also the edit I made to the question.
    – l_and_a
    Mar 12 at 12:45
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    @l_and_a, if Russia wanted to permit resuppy, they could allow land resupply. They don't want foreigners meddling in their planned conquest of Ukraine.
    – o.m.
    Mar 12 at 12:51
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    @i_and_a You forget the 3rd option: “there is not humanitarian crisis, so there’s no need for aid. This is just an attempt for NATO to send weapons to their neo-nazi puppets”. You’re giving Russia far too much credit if you think they’ll have any shame about simply lying straight out
    – divibisan
    Mar 12 at 15:05
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    @l_and_a, unlike the UNSC, the UNGA can pass only non-binding resolutions. Which is exactly why the main winners of WWII insisted on their veto. Your 'idealistic' idea is a way to get NATO and Russians shooting at each other. Some people want that, despite the consequences, but it would be a very bad idea to sleepwalk into such a confrontation.
    – o.m.
    Mar 12 at 15:23
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    @l_and_a How the West could proove that it realy humanitarian airdrops and not any military help?
    – convert
    Mar 12 at 19:31
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The US-led effort to supply besieged Bosnian enclaves in 1993-1994, was part of Operation Provide Promise.

In one of the largest humanitarian air drop operations ever carried out, US and allied aircraft flew 2,735 sorties.

The background to this is of course, Operation Deny Flight, a NATO operation running from 1993-1995 enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I think you can see the problem straight off.

If you apply the same structure, on the other foot as it were, then it would be Russia providing the humanitarian aid as it currently has air superiority over the region.

So:

Would it be possible for a country or international body to provide humanitarian aid to Mariupol residents by dropping crates of essential supplies from the air?

Yes, Russians. But are they likely to? Given the record on humanitarian corridors, it does not seem to be a high priority for them.

In fact, in the case of a good old siege tactic, Russia would rather that the population gets displaced so it can move in or carry out a more saturated assault rather than supply them and keep them there. The local population is more of a hindrance than anything else now that they clearly will not welcome the Russians with open arms.

What kind of political, economic, or other factors are there that prevent such an approach?

Factors include: NATO, Russia, no no-fly zones, air superiority, risk of expanding the war beyond the region.

Drones

Drones are aircraft. Unless it is an aircraft that has explicit authorization from Russian authorities it is likely to be shot down.

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  • Thanks very much! I actually meant "could this be done by someone other than Russia", as I agree Russia seems interested in a humanitarian crisis, not its resolution. Edited the question to clarify this.
    – l_and_a
    Mar 12 at 12:43
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    delivery drones also dont have the necessary range. Long distance ones are combat/recon/loitering. Mar 13 at 9:40

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