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Russo-Ukraine War - 2017

The war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced 1.7 million people in three years. Between January and November 2017 the conflict resulted in at least 450 civilian deaths.

President Petro Poroshenko was stalling on the Minsk agreement in the face of opposition by Ukrainian nationalists. In January 2017 President Poroshenko said that Kiev would not take a single step to implement the political aspects of the Minsk Agreements until its security requests are fulfilled, including the establishment of Ukrainian control over the entire length of the Russian-Ukrainian border. This was said in public by a president who signed the Minsk Agreements, which state clearly that control over the border will be re-established in full only after Kiev honours all its political commitments, such as amnesty, local elections and the approval of a special status for Donetsk and Lugansk and its formalisation in the Ukrainian constitution.

In Kyiv, Trump’s election prompted fears that the United States could sacrifice support for Ukraine for better relations with Russia. That would make the country even more vulnerable to influence and interference from Moscow, which has also backed separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 9,750 people.

On 16 January 2017, Ukraine instituted proceedings against the Russian Federation with regard to alleged violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 9 December 1999 and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 21 December 1965. Both States are parties to these two instruments.

In particular, Ukraine contends that, following the Orange Revolution of 2004, it had been subjected to increasing degrees of Russian pressure and intimidation. According to Ukraine, since 2014 the Russian Federation has escalated its interference in Ukrainian affairs to dangerous new levels, “intervening militarily in Ukraine, financing acts of terrorism, and violating the human rights of millions of Ukraine’s citizens, including, for all too many, their right to life”. It stated that in eastern Ukraine, the Russian Federation has instigated and sustained an armed insurrection against the authority of the Ukrainian State. Ukraine considers that, by its actions, the Russian Federation was in violation of fundamental principles of international law, including those enshrined in the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (“Terrorism Financing Convention”).

Frustrated by the stalemate in this 33-month war of attrition, concerned that Western support is waning, and sensing that U.S. President Donald Trump could cut Kyiv out of any peace negotiations as he tries to improve fraught relations with Moscow, by mid-December 2016 Ukrainian forces anxious to show their newfound strength went on what many called a "creeping offensive."

Observers said the Ukrainians appeared to be trying to create new facts on the ground, while officials and commanders insisted they were fighting to stop the flow of contraband into separatist-controlled territories and fending off attempts by separatist groups that called themselves the Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics" to seize more territory.

Ukraine's armed forces edged farther into parts of the gray zone in or near the war-worn cities of Avdiivka, Debaltseve, Dokuchaievsk, Horlivka, and Mariupol, shrinking the space between them and the separatist fighters. In doing so, the pro-Kyiv troops have sparked bloody clashes with their enemy, which has reportedly made advances of its own -- or tried to. The direct result of forward moves is escalation in tension, which often turns to violence.

Battlefield advances by both sides make implementing the 2015 peace deal, known as the Minsk agreement, more difficult. Ukrainian authorities insist their moves do not endanger the peace process and are not in violation of the Minsk deal because they did not cross in separatist-controlled territory.

Ukraine suffered two devastating defeats -- in Ilovaisk in August 2014 and in Debaltseve in February 2015 -- that left hundreds of troops dead after Russia-backed forces encircled them and pounded their positions with heavy artillery. The battle changed the Ukrainians' calculus and gave the separatist side the clear upper hand.

By 2017 Russia had constructed several military bases and camps close to Ukraine's border, which allows Russia to deploy thousands of its troops within a matter of hours. Moreover, 5,000 regular soldiers of the Russian armed forces are already on separatist-held territory, along with 40,000 Russian nationals fighting in separatist militias. In addition to personnel, Russia deployed to eastern Ukraine more than 600 main battle tanks, more than 1,300 armored vehicles, more than 700 pieces of artillery, and more than 450 multiple-launch rocket systems.

In the last days of January 2017 tensions in eastern Ukraine suddenly and unexpectedly escalated, with Kiev and the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) accusing each other of starting the shelling on Jan. 29 and Jan. 30. Whatever the truth, dozens are dead and the outskirts of Donetsk have been left without electricity. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko cut short his visit to Germany and urgently convened an emergency meeting of the Contact Group for the settlement of the Donbass conflict, as well as appealed to the United Nations.

The fighting began on the day following the 28 January 2017 telephone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly stated his desire to distance himself from the Ukrainian conflict. During their phone conversation on January 28, Trump and President Vladimir Putin were on the same page with regard to Ukraine insofar as both wanted an end to the conflict and neither wanted it to "turn into a long-standing crisis". The Kremlin spokesman Dmirty Peskov later highlighted this approvingly. Trump is on record that no vital American interests are at stake in Ukraine. He has even sounded conciliatory on the hugely controversial issue of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Some experts saw the latest fighting as part of Ukraine's desire to put Donbass back on the international agenda, while others said that it reflected the Ukrainians' unwillingness to implement the Minsk accords.

A cease-fire in eastern Ukraine aimed at halting fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Moscow-backed separatists went into effect 20 February 2017. Ukrainian officials, however, warn it is at risk of falling apart. Under the cease-fire announced in Munich by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, both sides were supposed to abide by the two-year-old Minsk agreement and withdraw heavy weaponry from the front lines. Analysts said the cease-fire was unlikely to hold, given that the underlying causes for the conflict remained unaddressed.

In December 2016, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov urged a complete cutoff of the separatist-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk from the rest of Ukraine. Shortly afterward, veterans set up the first blockades, stopping trains crisscrossing the front line, erecting tent camps atop the tracks, and in some places welding wagon wheels to them.

A group of "blockaders" -- on the surface, a motley crew of staunchly pro-Kyiv activists and military veterans, some armed -- started in February 2017 installing new barriers and checkpoints on an almost weekly basis that slow traffic and interrupt the flow of goods across the front line of a conflict. They demanded that Kyiv stop a perceived "trade in blood" that helps the breakaway groups finance their self-proclaimed "people's republics" in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Doing so, they argue, could force cash-strapped Moscow to foot a heavier bill to sustain its alleged intervention in those places and ease the burden on Kyiv at the same time.

The Ukrainian government opposed the blockaders' stand, but law enforcement and the military are hesitant to disperse them by force and risk images of the authorities beating on military heroes. The result is a standstill in nearly all rail traffic and crucial shipments of coal to fuel power plants and heavy industry across the country, which despite the warring sides' differences had continued almost unimpeded until early 2017.

More than 12,000 Ukrainian army soldiers had been either killed or injured in the conflict with independence-seeking insurgents in the country's eastern regions, the Ukrainian military said 16 June 2017. The confrontation, which had been underway since April 2014, had claimed the lives of at least 2,696 government servicemen and left 9,903 others wounded, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters during a media briefing. Last month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said more than 2,000 civilians were killed and 7,000 to 9,000 others injured in the confrontation. The casualty number among members of the armed groups remained unknown.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine started after the government army launched offensives to regain control over the cities and towns seized by insurgents, who declared independence from Kiev. More than 30 rounds of ceasefire have led to a reduction in hostilities over the past two years, but clashes between the conflicting sides.

The European Union's sanctions on Russia were set to expire in the summer of 2017, and what happens next - including whether President Trump unilaterally lifts the US's own measures - remained unclear. EU nations such as Hungary, Italy and Austria had all sought to ease the sanctions in order to better allow them to do business with Russia. However, new fighting in eastern Ukraine appeared to show that the game was not yet over for Russia. On 28 June 2017, the EU Council prolonged economic sanctions targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy until 31 January 2018. They target the financial, energy and defence sectors, and the area of dual-use goods.

In addition to these economic sanctions, several EU measures are also in place in response to the crisis in Ukraine including targeted individual restrictive measures, namely a visa ban and an asset freeze, currently against 150 people and 37 entities until 15 September 2017; and restrictive measures in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, limited to the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol, currently in place until 23 June 2018.

Kurt Volker, the new US special envoy for Ukraine peace negotiations, said he was stunned by the number of cease-fire violations in the ex-Soviet nation’s war-torn east after making his first visit to the region. He made the comment in a 23 July 2017 interview after spending the day at the front lines of the conflict. "The level of cease-fire violations on daily basis is astonishing," Volker told RFE/RL.

The German government said Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine had agreed on a number of "immediate measures" to push forward with a peace deal brokered in 2015 to end the bloody fighting in eastern Ukraine. The government in Berlin said 24 July 2017 that the so-called Normandy Group called for the immediate halt to all violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Hrytsak, in a meeting of top Russian officials in May 2017, Vladimir Putin " set a new task - to achieve in the shortest possible term the so-called, verbatim, 'reset of the ruling regime in Ukraine.'" The claim, of course, is hard to verify. But what is clear is that the next months witnessed a marked increase in tensions in Ukraine.

Ukraine was the target of a massive cyberattack and two of its military intelligence officers were assassinated in June 2017. Moreover, the Observer Mission in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that there was a 20 percent increase in cease-fire violations during the second week of July. And according to the Ukrainian military, Moscow-backed separatists launched 27 attacks from July 24 to July 25 alone. Additionally, Ukraine's General Staff saids Russia increased its troop presence on Ukraine's border, amassing three divisions of motorized rifle troops capable of conducting rapid offensive operations.

The US State Department said on 22 December 2017 the United States will provide Ukraine with "enhanced defensive capabilities" as the country battles Russian-backed separatists in the east. Russian officials said a US decision to supply weapons to Ukraine is dangerous and will encourage Kiev to use force in eastern Ukraine. The new weapons, if approved by the US Congress, include American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defences against the rebels, who have rolled through eastern Ukraine in tanks since 2014.

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Page last modified: 28-12-2017 18:40:41 ZULU