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Russo-Ukraine War - 2019

In 2014 Russia began its intervention into the affairs of a sovereign state, Ukraine, just as it did in Georgia during 2008. Since April 2014, more than 10,300 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the separatists who control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Fighting persists despite cease-fire deals reached as part of the September 2014 and February 2015 Minsk accords, and implementation of other measures set out in the deals has been slow.

Since the 25 November 2018 naval attack, in which Russia seized three Ukrainian vessels and captured two dozen crew members, its ships have maintained a stranglehold on the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, and strictly limited ship traffic to Ukrainian ports. By the end of 2018, Russian forces had massed near Crimeas border with eastern Ukraine, prompting warnings from the Ukrainian government as well as independent observers that the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin may be planning a new attack on the country.

Ukrainians and independent observers warned that Putin may be planning a ground offensive. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported on 23 December 2018 that Russian military convoys had been moving toward the border between Crimea and Ukrainian-held territory, and that fighter jets had been redeployed to Crimean airfields.

Though the purpose of the military movements is unclear, the ISW said, The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has been warning that Russia could conduct such operations at short notice since December 11, 2018. It remains impossible to assess whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to launch an offensive or will do so, or whether the visible military preparations are intended to pressure Ukraine and its partners without escalating to additional open conflict. The data suggests that Putin is preparing to attack, although alternative interpretations are possible.

The Russian ruler had motive to escalate his war against Ukraine, being "eager to undermine Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who faces a reelection contest in the spring." The authors recalled that Putin was "infuriated" by a recent move by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to establish its independence from the Russian church. Putin may believe that Trump, who lately has been loudly repudiating a US role as the policeman of the world, is in no mood to defend a remote piece of Ukraine from Russian tanks.

In recent weeks, Russian news outlets have published articles about water shortages on the Crimean peninsula, as well as about Russian military exercises taking place near the narrow land corridor linking Crimea to Ukraine's Kherson region. Some analysts suggest that Putin might cast any seizing of the canal as an intervention necessitated to prevent a Ukraine-provoked humanitarian crisis on the peninsula.

Russia and Ukraine each released 35 detainees on 07 September 2019 in the biggest direct prisoner exchange between both countries since 2014. While Ukraine has referred to the freed individuals as "prisoners," Russian lawmakers and state-run media outlets have instead called them "detained persons." Since the outbreak of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, hundreds of prisoners had been exchanged between Kyiv and the separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Though fewer and fewer individuals had been recently released. The release and exchange of prisoners is one of the points agreed in the Minsk peace agreement. It stipulates that, ultimately, all prisoners on both sides must be freed.

The Ukrainian government signed an agreement 01 October 2019 with pro-Russia separatists, Russia and European monitors that will allow a local election to be held in separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine. The agreement was signed after the parties met in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, and is seen as a major step by the new Ukrainian government under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy toward resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and pro-Russia separatists. In preparation for the election, the Ukrainian government and separatist leaders said they would withdraw troops from two locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the following week. President Zelenskiy told reporters in Kyiv that Ukraine agreed to a local election only when Ukraine regains control of its borders with Russia. The president has faced criticism that Ukraine is giving concessions to Moscow and for following a policy of appeasement with Russia.

Pro-Russia separatists are seeking a special status allowing for self-governance in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, large parts of which have been under separatist control since April 2014. If the OSCE declares the elections as valid, the Moscow-backed separatists said they expect to be given long-term special status.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who rose to the presidency earlier this year on promises to end the conflict, accepted the withdrawal plan, part of the so-called the Steinmeier Formula, early in October. Zelenskiy told reporters on October 10 that the plan proposed in 2016 by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would be enshrined in a new special status law for the separatist-controlled territories and drafted only after a summit of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia -- the so-called Normandy format -- takes place.

Kyiv and Russia-backed separatists have begun withdrawing troops and weapons from a front-line area in eastern Ukraine, as part of a plan to end the Donbas region's five-year conflict. Martin Sajdik, the special representative of the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on 29 October 2019 that the sides "renewed the disengagement of forces and hardware" in the town of Zolote in the eastern Luhansk region, and "continued negotiations on the renewal of disengagement" in the nearby town of Petrivske.

Troops and civilians began adjusting to a new reality after forces began disengaging along the line of separation between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatists. Members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could be seen constructing new fortifications on November 2 after the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatist forces began a phased troop withdrawal earlier this week further away from the so-called line of control separating the two sides in eastern Ukrainian regions. Kyiv's military and Moscow-backed separatists began their disengagement in Zolote on October 29, part of a series of measures aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people in the last five years. Some nearby villages are now part of a "no-man's-land" that are being patrolled by Ukrainian troops.

Thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv on 08 December 2019 fearing a "capitulation" to Russia ahead of peace talks between the leaders of the two nations Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin at a summit in Paris that began the next day. Kyiv was packed with protesters holding placards with slogans such as "No to capitulation," "Stay away from Moscow" and "Russian gas is a noose around our necks" during the rally, led by some of Zelenskiy's political opponents. The president's predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, who led Ukraine after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and the breakout of the separatist conflict with backing from Moscow, was among those who called the protest.

Nevertheless, the president's spokeswoman, Yulia Mendel, said Zelenskiy would be firm with Putin at the peace summit. "The first three steps that President Zelensky will take at a meeting in Paris: the terms and conditions of the return of captured Ukrainians; a real, not fake, ceasefire; and, of course, the withdrawal of foreign troops and bandit formations from the territory of Donbass".

Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine on 10 December 2019 signaled their willingness to participate in a ceasefire agreed in France the previous day. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, signed a deal, mediated by France and Germany, to withdraw forces from the conflict zone by the end of March 2020. The EU also voiced its support on Tuesday, saying it welcomed the "important" steps being taken, but cautioned that concrete steps must be taken quickly or the truce would risk the same fate of the oft-violated 2015 Minsk ceasefire.

One of the major sticking points for the Ukrainian president is the issue of border controls between Russia and Ukraine. He wants to be sure there is solid protection there before the local elections sought by Moscow and the rebels. Putin, for his part, has sought sweeping autonomy for the rebel-held regions and said that Ukraine should provide amnesty to rebel fighters. Wolfgang Ischinger, who chairs the annual Munich Security Conference, summarized the situation: "De facto, Berlin and Paris accept the perspective of a frozen conflict. Thus, Putin does not lose, and Zelenskiy will not win. Not good at all. But could have been a lot worse."

The Normandy Four (N4) process between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany restarted on 09 December 2019. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy secured a ceasefire and an expanded no-contact zone at the Normandy Four meeting. In 2020, there is a possibility that some sort of peace deal could be reached with Russia. Russia and Ukraine exchanged 203 prisoners on December 29, in, which 76 Ukrainian citizens - being held in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk - were traded for 127 Russian-aligned prisoners held in Ukraine. Four Ukrainian citizens reportedly declined to return, while 14 Russian-aligned prisoners also declined to return.

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Page last modified: 13-01-2020 18:53:49 ZULU