Efforts to bring peace to Ukraine’s Donbas region have been deadlocked for years. The steps the belligerents take to de-escalate violence can save lives, but people still die on the front lines and beyond. Crisis Group’s new visual explainer puts these dynamics in stark relief.
Low-level violence continued in Donbas conflict zone, while parliament passed controversial “anti-oligarch” legislation. In Donbas conflict zone, combat killed five Ukrainian govt troops, per military figures, while Ukrainian researchers reported at least five combat deaths among Russian-backed forces during month; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe corroborated four civilian injuries, all from shelling and all in separatist-held areas; town head in govt-controlled Shchastya reportedly injured in aftermath of 16 Sept mortar attack. Meanwhile, unknown assailant 22 Sept attacked car carrying Serhiy Shefir, aide and long-time business associate of President Zelenskyy, in capital Kyiv, leaving driver injured; Zelenskyy blamed attack on administration’s efforts to reduce public influence of oligarchs. Parliament next day passed Zelenskyy’s law aimed at preventing designated oligarchs from sponsoring political parties or buying privatised assets; some opposition members claimed move aimed at hobbling political rivals such as ex-President Poroshenko. Approximately 150,000 Russian passport holders 17-19 Sept voted in Russian parliamentary elections held in Donbas for first time; Ukraine’s Security and Defenсe Council 17 Sep vowed sanctions against “all involved”. EU 10 Sept prolonged for six months sanctions against 177 individuals and 48 entities “responsible for undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine”. Ambassadors to Ukraine from G7 states 23 Sept issued joint statement noting “concern” and “disappointment” at delays in judicial reform and inadequate efforts to ensure transparent selection of new Constitutional Court judges. At address to UN General Assembly, Zelenskyy 23 Sept criticised UN for failure to appear at Aug 2021 Crimea Platform meeting and urged UN revival through stronger action against countries violating international law.
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.
For the Ukrainians, especially in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, they want a clear statement of support from the United States.
Ukraine doesn’t have a lot of equal relationships. This is the danger of being a weaker country in the international system.
If you want to say you’re going to defend Ukraine, say you’re going to defend Ukraine, [NATO] membership or no membership.
This doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a major escalation [between Ukraine and Russia]. But we should still be worried because it’s a symptom of the deadlock in the peace process.
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.
Every year Crisis Group publishes two additional Watch List updates that complement its annual Watch List for the EU, most recently published in January 2021. These publications identify major crises and conflict situations where the European Union and its member states can generate stronger prospects for peace. The Spring Update of the Watch List 2021 includes entries on Bolivia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Ukraine and Yemen.
This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk to Anna Kovalenko, Deputy Head of the President's Office in Ukraine, about reforms in the security sector and reaching a peace deal with Russia.
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.