Despite disturbing signs that there has been an uptick in violence in eastern Ukraine, the Minsk 2 ceasefire is unlikely to collapse for now. But sooner or later, Kiev will have to come to the negotiating table.
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors investigate outside a kindergarten damaged in the Jan 27 shelling in which scores of people were killed and injured in Mariupol. Photo: AP
For a different take read: "The military escalation in Donbas leaves Minsk agreements in limbo"
Over the past week, the American media has been sounding the alarm over what is widely perceived as a renewed Russian-backed offensive in eastern Ukraine. Observations range from the plausible, such as the commentary of correspondent Oliver Carroll suggesting that there has been a “notable increase in military activity in recent weeks,” to the downright fanciful.
One American journalist with a particularly active imagination took to his column at Bloomberg View to inform readers that the Russian government had dispatched mobile crematoriums to the Donbas region, presumably in order to help hide the evidence of fallen Russian military personnel.
Nevertheless, it is true that the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine has noted an uptick in violence over the past few weeks. On June 3, the SMM released a report in which they noted a “sharp increase in the number of ceasefire violations at and around the Donetsk airport” and not far off, at the Donetsk Central Railway Station, the SMM reported 249 explosions over a nine-hour period.
This weekend, the SMM reported an increase in civilian casualties inside the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, noting that, “From May 30 to June 4, six female corpses and 38 male corpses were delivered to morgues with causes of death injuries received as a result of shelling.”
In the Petrovskyi district of Donetsk, the SMM was told that, on June 3, “84 military men and 21 civilians (four men, 17 women, mostly elderly) had been treated in the hospital for shrapnel injuries as a result of shelling.”
Further fighting was observed to have erupted in the government-controlled town of Marinka, while in Luhansk (also government-controlled) “the village inhabitants informed the SMM by telephone that children attending the village kindergarten were sheltered in the basement due to on-going shelling of the village.”
While the new uptick in fighting is indeed disturbing and may pose a direct threat to the new ceasefire agreement hammered out in Minsk in February, it might be useful to a keep couple of things in mind.
First, fighting in and around Donetsk is not new and has continued almost daily in the vicinity of the airport. Fighting there was far heavier in late winter and early spring than it is now. Indeed, in late March a video taken by a Serbian member of the rebel Army of Novorossiya showed that the fighting at the airport remained so intense that corpses of Ukrainian soldiers remained scattered among the rubble of the airport, irretrievable.
Second, ceasefire violations, if said to be initiated by the pro-Russian forces, generate outrage and headlines in the Western media. Ceasefire violations, if reported to be directed against the pro-Russian forces, do not.
To wit: On April 12 the SMM reported the following:
Both the Ukrainian Armed Forces representative and the Russian Federation representative to the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) told the SMM that the Ukrainian side (assessed to be the Right Sector volunteer battalion) earlier had made an offensive push through the line of contact towards Zhabunki…
The above report shows that Kiev has tenuous control over the far right volunteer forces ostensibly under its purview; and that it was those forces who initiated (yet another) round of post-ceasefire fighting. Not so surprisingly, these revelations did not ignite a chorus of Western media headlines deploring this development as the “end of Minsk” nor was it even noted as a serious ”violation of the ceasefire” at the time.
All of this is to simply say that the implications of the recent round of fighting do not necessarily mean that the ceasefire will wholly collapse. But since we are no doubt getting close to that moment, the principle actors in the unfolding drama (the Normandy 4 + the U.S.) ought to be doing their part to uphold Minsk and that means, among others things, removing foreign forces from the territory of eastern Ukraine and starting negotiations between Kiev and the representatives of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Yet, thus far, Kiev, in contravention of the accords, has refused to negotiate. So it remains incumbent upon the Western members of the Normandy quartet, as well as the U.S., to persuade Kiev to do so.
The question that remains is: Will they?
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.