Since 2014, a war with Russia-backed separatists has killed 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine, Russia has annexed Crimea and Ukraine’s relationship with the European Union has suffered due to corruption and failed political reform. Crisis Group supports and reports on implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreement to turn a ceasefire between the warring parties into a peace deal. Through a network of contacts on both sides of the conflict divide, we assess the dire humanitarian situation and engage local and foreign actors to prevent clashes from escalating, facilitate conflict settlement and strengthen a reintegrated Ukrainian state.
A confrontation in the Azov Sea in November 2018 exacerbated hostilities between Russia and Ukraine and dashed hopes for an early resolution to the six-year war. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to continue its support for a negotiated settlement and pressure Kyiv to protect civilians.
Campaigning for presidential elections scheduled for 31 March kicked off following expiration of martial law late Dec, as low-level hostilities continued in Donbas and tensions with Russia continued over 25 Nov attack on Ukrainian vessels off Crimea. As of 16 Jan all 22 sailors and two security agents captured by Russian authorities during attack had their pre-trial detention periods extended to late April. Russian FM Lavrov 18 Jan said that Moscow had agreed to German and French offer to monitor traffic in Kerch Strait but questioned need for Kyiv’s approval; Ukrainian FM Klimkin said release of captured sailors should remain primary focus. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed resolution 24 Jan supporting German and French monitoring proposal, calling on Russia to apply Geneva Conventions to Ukrainian captives. OSCE Chairman-in-Office Martin Saijdik 28 Jan spoke to Austrian newspaper about plans to implement 2014-2015 Minsk Agreements via local elections overseen jointly by OSCE and UN in areas currently held by Moscow-backed armed groups, along with formation of European agency for rebuilding Donbas; Saijdik suggested proposal should be subject to approval by Ukrainian and Russian parliaments. Ukrainian FM called plan “same old thing” but praised call for international oversight; de facto FM of so-called Donetsk People’s Republic termed it “attempt to sabotage the Minsk process”. Three civilians injured in Donbas conflict zone over month, while seven elderly people died waiting to cross Line of Separation in harsh weather conditions; at least three Ukrainian military members and seven armed group fighters killed, at least 28 injured. With over 100 religious communities leaving Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to join newly-formed Orthodox Church in Ukraine since mid-Dec, Kyiv passed legislation 28 Jan outlining procedures for congregations to switch allegiance and handle disputes over use of worship sites. Kyiv district court sentenced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in absentia 24 Jan to thirteen years in prison on charges of committing state treason and colluding to wage war against Ukraine and undermine its territorial integrity.
With living conditions worsening, and crossfire still claiming casualties, people residing in eastern Ukraine’s conflict zone feel increasingly abandoned by the central government. Reintegrating the area requires Russian withdrawal, but in the meantime Kyiv can and should better protect civilians and meet humanitarian needs.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
Far from the deadly battle against Kremlin-backed separatists in its eastern provinces, Kyiv faces a groundswell of resentment and disenfranchisement among citizens in the country’s west. To restore faith in the state’s laws and institutions, the government must address endemic corruption to win back those in the state’s margins.
Implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement remains deadlocked. Russia’s first proposal of a UN peacekeeping force in Ukraine’s breakaway eastern regions cannot work, but it opens a much-needed window for diplomacy.
After three years of conflict and 10,000 deaths, Russia has shown it can destabilise and dominate Ukraine. The Kyiv government may still prevail, but only if it uproots corruption and if the U.S. and EU maintain sanctions until Russia’s complete withdrawal from the country’s east.
The 500km line of separation between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels suffers heavy daily violations of the ceasefire agreed in Minsk in 2015. Escalation is possible, and the status quo risks a political backlash against the Kyiv government and no way out of sanctions for Moscow. All sides should pull back heavy weapons from front lines, take responsibility for civilians trapped there, and return to other steps toward peace set out in Minsk.
Russia is intensely frustrated by the lack of movement on the February 2015 Minsk agreement, and has sought to put the onus for the lack of progress on Ukraine.
While Ukraine’s territorial integrity remains compromised, every effort must be made to improve the plight of residents in the eastern Donbas region. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 annual early-warning update for European policy makers, Crisis Group advises the EU and its member states to provide these citizens with funds for compensation and encourage Kyiv to pass legislation that restores residents’ pension payments.
The prospect of a UN peacekeeping force in Ukraine's Donbas offers a rare opening to discuss how to resolve the conflict. But Moscow's diplomatic overtures also risk fueling political infighting in Kyiv in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
Ongoing clashes with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine combined with rampant corruption mean Ukraine is at a crossroads. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group recommends the EU to condition further technical and financial assistance while pursuing diplomatic engagement in Donbas.