The truce in Eastern Ukraine, the latest of many, at last seems to be taking hold. The Ukrainian army reported that they took no casualties over a 24 hour period this week. This follows a last ditch attempt at an agreement, brokered by France, Germany and Russia in Minsk. The fragile ceasefire comes as Defence Minister Michael Fallon has announced that British troops will be sent to Ukraine to train the national army, and United States has publicly mulled sending either lethal or defensive aid to the Ukrainian military.
The conflict in Ukraine between national forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels has cost over 4000 lives, including numerous civilians. Artillery and tanks were at last said to be withdrawing, part of the Minsk agreement. Ukrainian forces had previously said that they could not withdraw due to the volume of fire coming from separatists, who refused to acknowledge the ceasefire until after a Russian saint’s day.
The truce comes just after the fall of the strategic hub of Debaltseve to rebel forces; who alleged that they had killed over a thousand government soldiers. Ukrainian forces confirmed losses of around a hundred. However, both sides regularly manipulate casualty returns to aid propaganda. Both sides regularly accuse each other of shelling civilian areas, and the regular usage of GRAD rockets and long-distance artillery is well documented.
The West has imposed numerous sanctions on Russia, accusing it of providing material support to the rebels, and of having thousands of troops, numerous vehicles and helicopters engaged in combat alongside rebel forces.
Russian denials of such action have worn thin fast. Observers and journalists have noted everything from trains taking dead Russian soldiers back to Russia, to the intimidation of mothers of dead soldiers (and assaults on press reporting on these occurrences). In addition to NATO satellite footage of forces crossing from Russia to Ukraine, reporters for the Guardian and Telegraph newspapers once watched troops cross from Russia and engage in conflict with Ukrainian soldiers. President Putin of Russia has stated that he believes that war between Ukraine and Russia is nonetheless “unlikely”.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko marked the one-year anniversary since the Maidan Uprising recently. The civil war erupted after former President Yanukovych fled the country and a pro-western government was elected. Russian troops seized the Crimean province of Ukraine, and shortly afterwards pro-Russian separatist protests began in the East of Ukraine. Papers from pro-Kremlin think tanks have called for the absorption of parts of Ukraine into Russia, under the name Novorossiya.
Russian planes have recently been testing in NATO airspace, in an assertion of Russian military might everywhere from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. The most noticeable example came when RAF Typhoons were scrambled to escort two Russian Bear Bombers away from the Cornish coast.
Newspapers have reported that the air incursions are Putin’s response to pressure from the oligarchs surrounding him, who are beginning to feel the bite of western sanctions; Bloomberg News noted that the 21 most affluent people in Russia lost $61 billion between them last year. Western sanctions have been targeted at companies, advisors and oligarchs close to Putin seen to be aiding the Kremlin’s Ukrainian campaign. The sanctions, on top of plummeting oil prices, recently put the Russian economy into freefall, and sent the rouble plummeting. It is estimated that $140 billion may have been wiped off Russia’s economy due to the double blow, while capital flight from the country has only increased. Recently, Putin twisted the knife, warning that Europe “didn’t want…an armed conflict” on its borders, but he may pay a heavy price for his new clout.