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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.

CrisisWatch Ukraine

Improved Situation

Conflict Risk Alert

Following late July ceasefire deal between Minsk accord parties, casualties decreased in Donbas conflict zone; Donetsk de facto leadership threatened new escalation. July ceasefire in Donbas conflict zone largely held throughout month: Ukrainian military confirmed no casualties or injuries in combat. Both sides continued to sustain non-combat casualties, however, particularly from landmines, including one Ukrainian serviceman killed 13 Aug, one Russian-backed fighter killed 15 Aug and two Russian-backed fighters killed 28 Aug. Sides accused each other of violating ceasefire rules with small arms, drones and fortification of positions. In move that could escalate conflict, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) head Denis Pushilin 28 Aug threatened to order “destruction of trenches and shelters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fortified or created after 22 July” if these were not removed by 3 Sept.  Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) members held heated discussions throughout month on meaning of “special status” for territories currently under control of separatists; Ukrainian delegation head Leonid Kravchuk 4 Aug suggested replacing “special status” with “special system of administration”; in response, DPR de facto FM Natalia Nikonorova warned of Ukrainian attempts to “nullify the [Minsk] agreements”. Deputy head of presidential administration Andryi Yermak 7 Aug announced imminent exchange of 200 prisoners. Luhansk People’s Republic TCG representative Olga Kobtseva 20 Aug said, however, no progress made on swap due to Kyiv govt legislation passed in July stating that no elections would be held in Donetsk and Luhansk until govt takes control of state border, which Kobtseva said would negate “the whole point of the Minsk agreements”. Ukrainian govt said sides 20 Aug agreed to 20 new demining zones and four disengagement zones. Following Ukraine’s extradition request of Wagner military battalion members arrested in Minsk in July, Belarus authorities 14 Aug announced fighters had been handed over to Russia. As of 1 Sept, DPR de facto authorities reported steady rise of total COVID-19 cases to 2,560 while Luhansk People’s Republic registered total 692 cases.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

17 Mar 2020
Maybe there’s a shift in thinking about war [in Ukraine]. What is the point of fighting now? Maybe it’s better to self-isolate, rather than sit in trenches. New York Times

Anna Arutunyan

Former Senior Analyst, Russia
24 Sep 2019
Ukraine is really dependent on [U.S.] aid and support, and that makes it an easy country to influence, because of that, at least on paper. Vice

Olga Oliker

Program Director, Europe and Central Asia
16 Aug 2016
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. Reuters

Paul Quinn-Judge

Former Senior Adviser, Ukraine and Russia

Latest Updates

Peace in Ukraine: A Promise yet to Be Kept

Last May, President Volodymyr Zelensky took office promising to end the then-five-year old war with Russia. As his administration approaches its one-year anniversary, however, Zelensky’s peacebuilding efforts face backlash in Kyiv, skepticism in Moscow, and hostility in the Russian-backed breakaways in Donbass.

Originally published in ISPI

Ukraine Walks a Tightrope to Peace in the East

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has embarked on an uncertain path to end the war in the region of Donbas, but his efforts have revived a process that had seemed increasingly hopeless. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support Zelenskyy’s efforts to end the separatist conflict in the east.

A Possible Step Toward Peace in Eastern Ukraine

Kyiv has accepted the Steinmeier formula, a mechanism for jump-starting implementation of the peace deal for parts of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. This decision is welcome, but the Ukrainian government should step carefully to boost chances of a settlement.

Q&A / Europe & Central Asia

Ukraine-Russia Prisoner Swap: Necessary, Not Sufficient

A long-awaited prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia marks a positive development in their bilateral relationship. Both countries should now build on their recent progress to implement the 2014-2015 Minsk agreements, the surest path to ending the war in eastern Ukraine.

Rebels without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine

Russia and the separatists it backs in Ukraine’s east are no longer quite on the same page, especially since the Kremlin abandoned ideas of annexing the breakaway republics or recognising their independence. The rift gives the new Ukrainian president an opportunity for outreach to the east’s embattled population, including by relaxing the trade embargo.

Our People

Katharine Quinn-Judge

Senior Analyst, Ukraine

Bogdan Voron

Giustra Fellow, Ukraine