August 21, 2014

Russia seems to prepare the path for creating yet another frozen conflict area, in Eastern Ukraine

Looking at the map of the conflict, it seems that the Ukrainian forces are rather close to liberating what still remains out of its control in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including the last uncontrolled segment of the Ukrainian-Russian border. Militarily, indeed, following the logic and the course of events so far, this is perfectly achievable in a month or so. By now, Ukrainian forces are engaged in street battles in Luhansk and attempting to encircle Donetsk. Ukraine has, indeed, no incentive or need to stop the ATO. However, Russia has undertaken a series of steps – military, political and “humanitarian” – to prevent Ukraine regaining sovereignty over the entirety of its territory, apart from Crimea. This may well be for Ukraine, and Europe, a new serious challenge, if not a political trap.

Looking at the map of the conflict, it seems that the Ukrainian forces are rather close to liberating what still remains out of its control in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including the last uncontrolled segment of the Ukrainian-Russian border. Militarily, indeed, following the logic and the course of events so far, this is perfectly achievable in a month or so. By now, Ukrainian forces are engaged in street battles in Luhansk and attempting to encircle Donetsk. Ukraine has, indeed, no incentive or need to stop the ATO. However, Russia has undertaken a series of steps – military, political and “humanitarian” – to prevent Ukraine regaining sovereignty over the entirety of its territory, apart from Crimea. This may well be for Ukraine, and Europe, a new serious challenge, if not a political trap.

Russia is obviously interested foremost in an immediate ceasefire that would translate into the halt of Ukrainian advance into Lugansk and Donetsk and lay the foundations for yet another frozen conflict area. Similarly to Abkhazia and South-Ossetia, this piece of Ukrainian land, far more populous and politically and economically relevant, would be continuously controlled by Russian supported „authorities“, enjoying a direct link to Russian territory and lines of supply. A new Transnistria on the other side of Ukraine, whereas its name, Novorossiya, sounds rather comical, given its size in comparison to Russia.

Russia would surely engage in a fruitless political process, as we have seen recently in Berlin, where four ministers of foreign affairs made no progress. Furthermore, Putin seems to be determined to undermine at all costs the Ukrainian momentum. After all, this is for him a question of survival. Even if there will be next week a meeting in Minsk between the Ukrainian president Poroshenko and Putin, one should not expect any tangible results.

European countries like France and Germany, but also Hungary, Slovenia and others may be immediately tempted by the prospect of a Russian sponsored ceasefire. An overt and fierce conflict between two great Slavic nations would be avoided and many lives would be spared. Retaking the business as usual with Russia will no longer be light years away. Think of it, Putin the peacemaker! If only anyone could believe him any longer… The cost to be born by Ukraine would be seen, in this context, as a secondary matter. Maybe not in Washington, though.

If Putin succeeds in halting Ukrainian forces and creating a new frozen conflict area, with European blessing or tacit consent, then he will rightfully make the conclusion that he will get away with virtually anything he might undertake in the future. A very serious note of caution for all other European countries bordering Russia.

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