The “frozen conflict” between Ukraine and Russia over the separatist Donbass which in seven years has caused almost 14 thousand victims and one and a half million displaced people is overheating. With the Ukrainian president Volodimir Zelenskij who asks NATO to accelerate his country’s accession to the Atlantic Alliance to send a “real signal” to Moscow and the Kremlin spokesman who replies that in this way the “situation can only get worse”.
US and EU challenge Putin
by Paolo Garimberti
Hostilities have intensified in recent weeks after Moscow mobilized vehicles and men 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border which in turn initiated exercises and strengthened its contingents along the line of contact in the Southeast and the the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. Russia argues that the deployments are not “a threat to any country in the world“, but the heated verbal exchanges with Kiev and the mutual accusations of “provocations” on the ground have in fact end of the eighth ceasefire in three years in the Donbass.
If Russia moves away from Europe
by Maurizio Molinari
After the deaths of four soldiers on March 26 alone, yesterday Kiev declared the killing of four more of its soldiers in the last 48 hours in fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the two self-proclaimed independent regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine, thus bringing the number of Ukrainian soldiers killed since the beginning of the year to 25 compared to 50 in 2020 and 100 in 2019. The separatists, for their part, denounced the wounding and killing of civilians, including a five-year-old, Vladislav Shikhov. “A gross, cynical, evil and impious manipulation”, Kiev replies.
The escalation coincides for Russian leader Vladimir Putin with the deterioration of his relations with the West, due to the poisoning and imprisonment of the opponent Alexei Navalny, and for the former comic actor Zelenskij elected president of Ukraine two years ago with the collapse of his approval rating that opened the debate on early elections. To regain legitimacy and counter the internal opposition of the nationalist hawks, Zelensky issued a flurry of decrees.
He closed several Russian-language media, imposed sanctions on the oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, “Putin’s man in Kiev”, and launched the “Crimean Platform”. Moves that mobilized the support of the West leading to the first phone call with the new US president Joe Biden. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin held a trilateral with the French president Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel: the Normandy Quartet which negotiated the Minsk I and II protocols so far not implemented, but without Zelenskij. “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” protested Kiev.
Now Zelenskij is aiming for NATO membership. “It would be the only real signal for Russia”, he told Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg yesterday, but he calls for “reforms”. It was discussed as early as 2008 in Bucharest, but several Western capitals, including Paris and Berlin, opposed it. Eight years later, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, engaged in conflict with Kiev’s forces.
With the peace negotiations stalled, the skirmishes at the front raise fears of the worst. So much so that the US has raised the alert to “possible imminent crisis”, the maximum level. Although analysts agree that neither Kiev nor Moscow have an interest in starting a war: Ukraine because it could give the Federation a pretext to intervene in the breakaway region and Russia because public opinion is tired of adventurism in foreign policy. Fear, however, he argues Maxim Samorukov of the Carnegie Moscow Center, is that a false step is enough to drag the two countries into a military confrontation.