The Conflict in Ukraine Heats Up Again
By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
In the Eastern Ukraine region of Donbas, shelling by warring factions has resumed, casting doubt on the efficacy of the current cease-fire agreement. Each side blames the other for restarting the fighting. But with the possibility of evacuating Ukrainian civilians from the city of Avdiyivka, the situation may escalate to the point where returning to the previous cease-fire agreement might be impossible.
Cease-Fire Calls from International Bodies Unlikely to Be Effective
Fighting over the past few days has led to a high casualty count. The U.N.’s Security Council is meeting for a closed-door session requested by the Ukrainian government. The European Union has called for an immediate cessation of fighting. But the meetings and calls for action by these international mediating bodies are unlikely to have an impact.
Fighting has broken out before, even with a cease-fire in place. However, this escalation appears different and it might come down to its timing.
The U.S. recently held a national election that put Donald Trump in the White House. It’s not unusual for certain parties to want to test the new president. North Korea is prepping for another missile launch and Iran tested a missile this past weekend.
Russia is making demands in its efforts to normalize relations with the U.S. Moscow could be ramping up violence in Ukraine to negotiate a normalization with the U.S. in the near future.
At least, that’s what some in Kiev are claiming. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze stated that the Kremlin planned and directed this new escalation. Ukraine sees value in claiming Russia’s hand in this mess, just as Russia has done little to hide its actions.
For civilians in the conflict zone, life has taken a decidedly difficult turn. The shelling by the belligerents has left residents in Avdiyivka without electricity or water in the middle of winter. The Donetsk regional governor has warned that an evacuation might be necessary, given the hardship civilians facing not only from a lack of power and water, but also from increasing violence.
In rebel-held territory, the situation is not much better, although it’s impossible to verify rebel claims. Russian-backed separatists claimed Tuesday that Ukrainian artillery struck a coal mine and an electrical substation. The rebels said nearly 200 miners were trapped in the mine before being rescued. There is still no news regarding the restoration of power to the territory.
As a result of the threat to civilians, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine made yet another plea to stop the fighting, so vital infrastructure can be repaired.
Russia Wants to Send a Message to Ukraine and America
Ukraine isn’t the only party to claim that this escalation stems from Russia wanting to send a message to Kiev and Washington. Radio Free Europe quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that this recent escalation is just that – a message. How that message will be interpreted or answered is yet to be seen, but there is little in the way of stopping Russian action in Ukraine in the first place.
Citing Kiev officials, RFE also reported that the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), which includes Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), is scheduled to meet in Kiev on February 1. Kiev officials have also asked for a special session of the OSCE Permanent Council.
NATO does not want to be involved in the conflict and the EU is not taking any action beyond voicing platitudes. Moscow is certainly in a much better position to dictate events. Also, with the new U.S. administration eagerly willing to reset relations with Russia, the Kremlin would be foolish not to seize the initiative in pressing its advantage.
Ukraine isn’t militarily capable of ending the rebellion, as the current situation clearly demonstrates. But Kiev has every reason to be concerned.
Since 2013, Moscow has embarked on the Ukrainian adventure with self-imposed red lines. President Trump seems unconcerned about what Russia does in Ukraine. During the presidential campaign, he went so far as to recognize Crimea as Russian territory.
It’s no wonder there are real fears in Kiev that Ukraine will be left to face Russia alone. So far, those fears appear to be justified.