Russo-Ukraine War - 2015
The first set of EU sanctions was due to expire in March 2015 unless they are renewed. Italy, Hungary and Slovakia are the countries most likely to vote against renewal. A December 2014 ICM Research poll revealed that 40 percent of Germans believe sanctions against Russia should be lifted. Thirty-eight percent of German respondents said sanctions should remain the same, while only 14 percent said they should be tightened. The Germans are more in favor of lifting sanctions for the simple reason that the German economy is the most integrated into Russian markets of all the other European economies.
That compared to 31 percent in France and 17 percent in the United Kingdom, who said sanctions should be lifted. In France, 20 percent said sanctions should be tightened and 36 percent thought they should stay same. In the United Kingdom, 21 percent of respondents said sanctions should be tightened while 45 percent they should stay same, revealing a substantial discrepancy with fellow EU-member Germany.
Aleksander Aleksandrov was arrested in May 2015 on terrorism charges stemming from the separatist conflict in pro-Moscow eastern Ukraine. Aleksanrov and another soldier (Yevgeny Yerofeyev) were allegedly members of the Russian military last year when they crossed the border into Ukraine. Russia denied any involvement in the border crossing, and has said both the soldiers quit their special forces unit before traveling into the war zone of their own accord. The soldiers refuted the official Russian statement, and instead, said they were active soldiers at the time of the operation and had been sent into Ukraine on a reconnaissance mission.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia are believed to favor an early end to sanctions. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said 15 May 2015 that he hoped to maintain political and economic relations with Moscow at a high level, adding that he would like to see anti-Russian sanctions lifted before the end of the year.
By late March 2015 the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine had been in place just over a month, but on the front line outside Mariupol, between the Russian border and Crimea, the fighting never stopped. Signs of war were everywhere — Ukraine’s government feared this area could be the focus of the next rebel offensive. The conflict had reached a stalemate, with the truce still technically in force, though casualties were reported almost daily.
Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told VOA April 09, 2015 that Russian President Vladimir Putin had no interest in resolving the conflict in Ukraine because it serves his interest. McFaul said that Putin likes the open-ended, low grade military confrontation in the former Soviet republic because it works to undermine the government in Kyiv. The former U.S. diplomat said none of this is about to change because unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, Putin wants the US as an enemy.
A former US ambassador to Ukraine said recent military moves by Russia show that President Vladimir Putin's "minimal goal is to destabilize the current government" in Ukraine. John Herbst, who now directs the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, said April 24, 2015 from Kyiv that Putin is seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Ukraine, "and in order to do that, he can’t simply sit behind the cease-fire line. He needs to move forward to cause additional instability in the country.”
Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine had killed more than 6,100 civilians, separatists and pro-Kyiv service staff by the end of April 2015 and displaced a million other people.
More than 200 Russian military personnel have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, according to a report based on research begun by slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The estimated death toll is one of the main findings of the much-anticipated report on Russia's involvement in the Ukraine conflict, which was completed by allies of Nemtsov after his killing in February and released on 12 May 2015. Russian service personnel are compelled to officially resign from the military before being deployed to Ukraine in an effort by the Russian government to mask its involvement in the conflict.
Following the capture by Ukraine army of 2 GRU special forces officers in Donbas May 17, Russia general staff ordered immediate evacuation of the 3rd Brigade troopers back to Togliatti from Bryanka, Luhansk Oblast, UNIAN reported May 18, citing Novoe vremya.
In June, the fighting in eastern Ukraine, including in the town of Marinka, intensified in violation of the ceasefire. A major battle flared June 03, 2015 outside a main separatist stronghold in war-torn eastern Ukraine, leaving more than a dozen dead and threatening to push the country back into full-blown civil war. Each side blamed the other for the new violence, which Ukrainian officials said began near Donetsk when about 1,000 pro-Russian rebel fighters, backed by artillery and tanks, launched a pre-dawn attack west of the city.
The Minsk agreement requires both rebels and Ukraine forces to withdraw heavy weapons from the line of contact, but international observers regularly reported violations of the agreement. The Ukrainian army blamed pro-Russia forces for the escalation of violence in the war-ravaged region. 'Taking into account the intensification of the military actions, numerous provocations and the use of heavy weapons by the Russian-backed militants, the Ukrainian armed forces have suffered casualties along almost the whole of the demarcation line,' Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said 11 June 2015.
European Union ambassadors voted June 17, 2015 to extend economic sanctions against Russia to the end of January 2016 and prolong an investment ban on Crimea for another year. EU foreign ministers were expected to approve the six-month extension of the economic sanctions hitting Russia's energy, financial, and military sector at a meeting in Luxembourg on June 22.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sent his personal envoy to European-mediated talks on 03 August 2015 to discuss a new weapons withdrawal agreement with negotiators from the rebels and Moscow. But the talks fell apart due to what one separatist said was Kyiv's refusal to pull back its forces from four strategic sites. The rebels accused Kyiv of "sabotaging" the peace talks.
Poroshenko convened his generals on 04 August 2015 to discuss the latest failed bid to negotiate an end to clashes with pro-Russian rebels that saw seven troops killed in another wave of attacks. Poroshenko was caught between more militant Ukrainian nationalists and Western leaders who hoped to see an end to the 16 months of fighting in the European Union's backyard.
Brian Whitmore wrote on August 04, 2015 that "ultimately, Russia wants to get the separatist territories reintegrated into a hyper-federalized Ukraine as a fifth column, with the ability to veto any attempts by the government in Kyiv to integrate with the West. And these efforts are failing -- and the Kremlin is flailing as it searches for an alternative."
Ukraine accused pro-Russian rebels on 10 August 2015 of carrying out the heaviest artillery attacks on government positions in six months and warned of signs the conflict was escalating despite a ceasefire deal. Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, said about "200 insurgents used tanks to storm" Novolaspa - a village halfway between the separatists' de facto capital Donetsk and the Kiev-held port of Mariupol - in a pre-dawn raid that caught government soldiers off guard.
It had been quiet in eastern Ukraine for the last couple of weeks in September 2015, and, according to Russia's daily business newspaper Kommersant, there could be a very good reason for that. The paper claimed to have interviewed a man from Tajikistan who was fighting alongside pro-Russian forces in Ukraine who now said he and his colleagues were relocating to Syria to fight for President Bashar al-Assad. It's not clear if this is an ordered "voluntary" engagement or if these guys are heading off purely of their own volition, but either way they were getting paid.
The Ukrainian military said on 30 October 2015 that the pullback of artillery systems under 100mm caliber has been completed along the demilitarized line in Donbass. The operation reportedly started on Wednesday in Donetsk Region in eastern Ukraine. The pullback, in line with the Minsk agreements between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Lugansk, was reported to be going in the direction of the southern city of Mariupol.
Foreign ministers taking part in the Normandy format meeting in Berlin agree that the Minsk agreements have to be fully implemented, but this is unlikely to happen by the end of 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists 06 November 205. The withdrawal of heavy and light weapons under 100-mm caliber from the line of contact in Eastern Ukraine should be completed on time, by November, 12, Lavrov added. The peace deal signed in February 2015 requires a ceasefire, weapons’ withdrawal, constitutional reform in Ukraine and legislative recognition of a special status for the unrecognized republics.
While the situation around Donetsk, the capital of the Russian-backed fighters, remained strained since the announcement of the newest cease-fire in September 2015, with sporadic small-arms fire reported almost daily, it deteriorated significantly in the first two weeks of November 2015. In the first month of the cease-fire regime, both sides were reporting calm, even playing down attacks that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was reporting; but the Russian-backed separatists in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) are now reporting more and more Ukrainian attacks, often alleging use of heavy weaponry. Meanwhile the Ukrainian military is now reporting attacks numbering in the realm of what was last seen in August during a period of particularly intense fighting.
Several other key flashpoints have seen attacks over the last week, including the lines near the separatist-held town of Horlivka, the Luhansk town of Schastye, and Shyrokyne, on the Azov coast. Early on 11 November 2015, the Ukrainian military reported fighting across a large span of territory -- nearly the entire front from the Russian border east of Luhansk to the Azov Sea near Mariupol.
With winter looming, the European Commission estimates 5 million people required urgent humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine. The situation is most dire for those who have been displaced or live near the front lines in areas beyond government control. The World Food Program raced to distribute food vouchers and parcels to the one million people who were the most vulnerable and require immediate food assistance.
On 03 December 2015 US Secretary of State John Kerry the annual ministerial council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that Russia and Ukraine both must work to end tensions and restore the cease-fire in Ukraine. Kerry said Russia should help with the removal of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and allow unfettered access to OSCE monitors in the war-torn region of Donbas. He said Ukraine needs to do its part to restore the cease-fire and begin rebuilding Ukraine's eastern regions.
The United Nations' human rights office said December 09, 2015 more than 9,000 people had died in 21 months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, even though there has been a "sharp de-escalation of hostilities" since August. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in its report that the withdrawal of heavy weapons following a new September 1 truce agreement had been instrumental in calming violence between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
Putin admitted for the first time in December 2015 that Russian military specialists were, indeed, present in eastern Ukraine. “We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere,” Putin said, adding that this was not the same as regular Russian troops.
There were all sorts of ways in which Poroshenko and the Kiev regime had not lived up to the Minsk agreements, in terms of looking toward federal arrangements, humanitarian assistance, some degree of federal accommodation of various things that were agreed in Minsk.
By the end of 2015 the truce was becoming more and more fragile. There was no consensus over a special law for local elections in parts of Donbass controlled by the separatists. People in the area had suffered many human rights violations and the humanitarian situation was worsening. The fact that the number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine increased rather than decreased during Christmas was not a very good development towards the end of the year.
The ceasefire in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine was further strengthened by the “regime of complete silence” introduced on 23 December 2015. However, in January and February, the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observed systematic violations of the ceasefire. During the same period, clashes and exchanges of fire have escalated in several flashpoints, predominantly near the cities of Donetsk and Horlivka (both controlled by the armed groups), and in small villages and towns located on the contact line, such as Kominternove (controlled by armed groups) and Shyrokyne and Zaitseve (divided between Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups).
In DIA’s December 2015 "National Security Strategy Report," DIA Director Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart asserted: "The Kremlin is convinced the US is laying the groundwork for regime change in Russia, a conviction further reinforced by the events in Ukraine. Moscow views the US as the critical driver behind the crisis in Ukraine and believes that the overthrow of Yanukovych is the latest move in a long-established pattern of U.S.-orchestrated regime change efforts."
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