Russo-Ukraine War - 2016
Since pro-Russian separatists rose up in Eastern Ukraine after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, more than 9,000 people had been killed in the conflict by early 2016.
Southeastern Ukraine has suffered from a crisis triggered by a military operation launched by Kiev authorities in April 2014 against local militias. The latter have refused to recognize the pro-Western government in Kiev imposed by what they consider to be a coup earlier in 2014. In February 2015, Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine worked out a ceasefire deal in Minsk later signed by Kiev and Donbass militias. Established in May 2014, the Contact Group on Ukrainian reconciliation aimed to promote direct dialogue between Kiev and the self-proclaimed people's republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The group includes representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
In the last months of 2015, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea’s annexation and continuing strife in Ukraine’s east appeared largely to be in stalemate. But, with the new year, it appeared the conflict was heating up again.
Brian Whitmore wrote: "Moscow has been allowed to pretend that it is a mediator in a conflict in Ukraine in which it is, in fact, the aggressor. The Kremlin is able to express concern over violence that it is, in fact, perpetrating itself. It's a game Russia has played before -- in Abkhazia, in South Ossetia, and in Transdniester. In fact, it's the same playbook Moscow used in the run-up to its 2008 invasion of Georgia. And it's a game the Kremlin will continue to play, as long as everybody keeps going along with the charade."
On 23 December 2015, a massive power outage in western Ukraine left approximately 700,000 homes in the dark. That outage was quickly followed by two smaller outages in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region. The outages were short-lived, and at the time, believed to be benign in nature. But in January 2016, both the Ukrainian government and the private cybersecurity firm ESET said they had discovered malware inside the command and control systems at the affected power generators. Russia figured as the principal suspect in planting the Ukrainian malware.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, based on information received as of 7 January 2016, observed relative calm with a small number of ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and no ceasefire violations in the area near Donetsk airport. In Horlivka, armed 'DPR' members temporarily held SMM monitors, and forced them to the ground at gunpoint. In areas not controlled by the Government, the SMM was denied access on five occasions and was granted conditional access at one occasion.
The SMM continued to monitor the withdrawal of heavy weapons foreseen in the Minsk Package of measures. In relation to the implementation of the Addendum to the Package of measures, the SMM revisited Ukrainian Armed Forces permanent storage sites whose locations corresponded with the withdrawal lines. All weapons previously verified as withdrawn to the sites were present.
Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, said on January 14, 2016 he expected territory in the east held by Russian-backed rebels to return to Ukrainian control before the end of the year. At the same time, he said he hopes to set into motion mechanisms that would lead to the "de-occupation" of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Speaking in Kyiv at his first press conference in the new year, Poroshenko said he would use all legal and diplomatic means to resolve the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine. "Ukrainian sovereignty over the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions must be restored this year," he said.
Speaking on the issue of Crimea, Poroshenko said he would propose "setting up an international mechanism for de-occupation of the peninsula" – an effort in which he planned to engage the European Union and the United States.
February 2016 saw an escalation in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russia separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, despite a series of cease-fire attempts. Reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have indicated that a majority of cease-fire violations came from separatists-controlled areas. The ongoing fighting had thrown into doubt plans under the Minsk II agreement for local elections in separatist-held areas. Various reports blamed separatists backed and armed by Russia for stepping up attacks on government forces to levels not seen for months.
Progress was seen but no breakthrough made during talks aimed at jumpstarting a fragile peace deal in Ukraine, ending with Moscow and Kyiv failing to agree on a proposal to hold elections in eastern Ukraine this year. Following the multiparty talks in Paris on 03 March 2016, Russia said it was prepared to support the election proposal presented by Germany and France. But Ukraine quashed early optimism by saying polls would not possible until security was established.
In total, from the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014 to 15 February 2016, OHCHR recorded 30,211 casualties in eastern Ukraine, among civilians, Ukrainian armed forces, and members of armed groups – including 9,167 people killed and 21,044 injured.
In early February 2016 Austria's Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner said that EU sanctions against Russia had not led to any political progress but only damaged Austria's economy. In early April the Austrian President Heinz Fischer told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Austria could help remove EU sanctions - on condition that Russia ensured a complete fulfillment of its side of the Ukraine ceasefire deal.
On 28 April 2016 French members of parliament (MPs) voted 55-44 in favor of a resolution to lift sanctions on Moscow imposed by the 28-member European Union. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans party, alongside center-right and far-left groups voted for a lifting of sanctions, while the Socialists and Greens voted against. "(The sanctions are) totally ineffective today to solve this international crisis and are dangerous for France's interests," said conservative MP Thierry Mariani, who put forward the resolution. He went on: "The Minsk (peace) accords are deadlocked, the ceasefire is merrily flouted by both sides" and promised reforms had yet to see the light of day. "The measures are dangerous for our economy," Mariani added, giving as examples the cancellation of the sale of two Mistral warships to Russia over the crisis.
Ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine have reached their highest level in months, with violence again reaching "worrying levels," the chief OSCE monitor said 28 April 2016. "During the past weeks, the OSCE has registered the highest number of ceasefire violations in months," Ertugrul Apakan said, calling for the warring parties to show "visible and decisive" action to restore the truce.
An article that appeared in July 2016 in the Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye — a publication which frequently features material reflecting the official position of the Russian authorities — was headlined: "Ukraine has become Russia's strategic adversary: Moscow does not exclude the possibility of a major war."
Alexander Golts, an independent Russian military analyst who is a visiting researcher at Sweden's University of Uppsala, saids it is not surprising that Ukraine is now openly being referred to in Russia as an "enemy". "It is clear that Ukraine now is anything but a state friendly to Russia," he told VOA's Russian service 04 July 2016. "In and of itself, the Ukrainian army, of course, is not a strategic problem for Russia. In Moscow, however, they are guided by phantom scenarios, in which Ukraine will eventually become part of NATO. One of Russia's excuses for its actions in Crimea and the Donbas is that it was acting to prevent Ukraine's possible entry into the North Atlantic alliance."
Ukraine and Russia were locked in a war of words 11 Augst2016 over the Kremlin’s claim that Kyiv infiltrated trained saboteurs into Crimea tasked with targeting “critical infrastructure” — an alleged mission Russian President Vladimir Putin is now citing as the reason for his decision to pull out of scheduled peace talks in Normandy. Ukrainian officials say the sabotage mission is pure “fantasy,” arguing the Kremlin is likely to use it as a pretext for a major escalation of the two-year-long conflict in east Ukraine, where Moscow-backed forces were occupying a large chunk of the Donbas region, including the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
By August 2016, the conflict had killed 10,000 people since it began in April 2014. While casualties have continued at a much reduced level since spring 2015, by mid-2016 both sides returned to using heavy artillery, including howitzers and ‘Grad’ multiple rocket launchers. In July 2016, the United Nations reported that eight died and 65 were injured. With escalating violence, it was getting much harder for international organizations to monitor the situation.
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