The recent political struggle for control over territory in Eastern Ukraine continues to escalate. Russian backed separatists continue to their offensive against Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, puts the blame on the West, while continuing to deny any association with the separatist movement. At this point, according to the BCC, “The fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 5,300 lives and driven 1.5 million people from their homes” (9 February 2015).
Political instability in late 2013 and early 2014 led to the eventual seizure of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian military. Swift action on the part of President Putin has secured the peninsula under Russian control, and more pressing issues in Eastern Ukraine only add to Crimea’s desire to remain a part of Russia. As shown in Figure 1, a majority of the ethnic Russian population living in Ukraine is concentrated along the eastern border. Political turmoil in Ukraine over the past few years has left the country’s citizens wary of politicians’ motives. This instability gave Russia the upper hand from the beginning of this conflict. President Putin also has a keen understanding of the geopolitical scene and the improbability of Western intervention. Figure 2 shows Russian separatist control as of the early February, 2015. One can clearly see that rebel strongholds coincide with ethnically Russian territory.
The United States has been avoiding direct intervention. Along with European leaders, President Obama has sought diplomatic negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. However, recent reports claim that President Obama may still consider sending weapons to Ukraine. An emergency summit to discuss the possibility for a peace deal is taking place today between leaders from Germany, France, Ukraine, Russia, and the Russian rebel group. According to CNN, discussions held in Minsk, Belarus, are expected to address the, “withdrawal of heavy weapons, the creation of a demilitarized zone and the future status of the Donbas area in Ukraine, which comprises Luhansk and Donetsk” (11 February 2015). Included among those meeting in Minsk are French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The week leading up to this summit saw an increase in conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. Both sides have made attempts to gain or reclaim territories in the event a peace agreement is made.
While peace negotiations are an encouraging sight, positive outcomes from this summit are anything but certain. A peace accord in September of 2014 did not prevent fighting from erupting shortly after agreement. As we continue to wait for details regarding the outcome of Minsk, we can only hope for the best. No matter what the outcome, it is clear that Ukraine will most certainly face challenges from its eastern border. Further coverage of this story will continue as developments emerge.
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