Ceasefire pledges have surfaced and frayed repeatedly over the six years of war in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Ukraine Katharine Quinn-Judge joins Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope this week to explain why and at what socio-economic costs to civilians on either side of the front line.
Local elections took place across country, excluding some communities and separatist-held areas in east, while July ceasefire in Donbas largely held. First round of local elections 25 Oct organised nationwide; in setback for President Zelenskyy, incumbent mayors in major cities held off challenges from his Sluha Narodu party. Separatist-held areas in east excluded from vote as per parliament’s July decree, many residents near front line also excluded for security reasons. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers praised vote as well organised but raised concerns many residents near front line in East could note vote despite absence of direct hostilities in years. In conflict zone, July ceasefire largely held although two govt servicemen were killed and two injured, according to Ukrainian officials; both sides sustained non-live-fire casualties, including at least one Ukrainian soldier injured, according to military authorities, and 11 Russian-backed fighters killed, according to social media reports. Landmines injured one man 4 Oct, two boys 6 Oct, and three male civilians 9 Oct. OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Yaşar Halit Çevik 8 Oct noted that de facto authorities continued to hamper movements of ceasefire monitors in non-govt-controlled areas. In Luhansk region, govt 12 Oct announced closure of civilian crossing Stanytsia Luhanska until 30 Oct due to quarantine; hundreds of civilians trapped at closed checkpoints; armed forces 28 Oct extended closure to 15 Nov. Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (D/LPR) de facto authorities reported significant rise in COVID-19 cases, while de facto DPR Health Minister Aleksandr Opryshenko 15 Oct admitted true rate of infection higher than official one and testing capacity lacking; de facto DPR head Denis Pushilin 16 Oct cancelled public sporting events. In blow to ongoing anti-corruption reforms, Constitutional Court 27 Oct abolished criminal liability for inaccurate asset declaration by govt officials, prompting thousands 30 Oct to rally in capital Kyiv, and Zelenskyy to call for Constitutional Court’s judges to be fired. EU-Ukraine Summit memorandum 5 Oct noted “Ukraine’s constructive approach in the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group”, calling on Russia to ensure OSCE ceasefire monitors can access parts of non govt-controlled areas near Russian border.
Years of conflict have exacerbated the economic woes of Donbas, once an industrial powerhouse. Authorities in Kyiv should take steps now to aid pensioners and encourage small trade while also planning ahead for the region’s eventual reintegration with the rest of the country.
Ceasefires in Ukraine's Donbas repeatedly fray because no side is fully invested in peace. Until the sides can agree on a long-term political solution, they should focus on protecting civilians through carefully targeted sectoral disengagements. If this facilitates peacemaking, so much the better.
The threat of coronavirus looms large in six self-declared republics that have broken away from post-Soviet states. War and isolation have corroded health care infrastructure, while obstructing the inflow of assistance. International actors should work with local and regional leaders to let life-saving aid through.
To help Ukraine find peace, the EU, NATO, and member states must seek new approaches to arms control discussions with Russia and European security as a whole. They should also consider a more flexible sanctions policy, such that progress in Ukraine may lead to incremental easing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.