Ukraine found itself in heavy conflict in 2014, but where does the country stand six years later?
By Maria Postolovska
In 2013, the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv made international headlines after students protested against the government. These protests lasted over one year and escalated into extensive demonstrations that became known as the ‘Maidan Revolution’.
The protests began after the former, pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, claimed that he would cut ties with the European Union in order to establish stronger ties with Russia. In light of Ukraine’s historical and social context as a former Soviet Bloc country, these were not geopolitical objectives that many Ukrainian citizens agreed with. Russia decided to take advantage of the instability in Ukraine to invade the Crimean Peninsula, later annexing the area. Others took advantage of the turmoil in Kyiv, leading to separatist movements in the Donbass region in the east, with groups proclaiming themselves as the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’. The Separatists, backed by the Russian military, began to gain control of the regions as the Armed Forces of Ukraine fought back. The armed strife turned into a de facto war that has not yet ended. The world seems to have forgotten about the only active war in Europe, but the conflict is still very much ongoing and there is no end on the horizon.
The occupation of Crimea by Russian, one of the most brazen annexations of territory since World War Two, and the occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by Russian-backed separatists have brought about much turmoil in the country. Thousands of people have been forced to move to central and western Ukraine and have been separated from their families and homes. Many now suffer from limited access to social protection, healthcare and education. Over fifteen thousand people have been killed as a result of the violent conflict, which has now lasted almost seven years.
Many attempts have been made by the former president, Petro Poroshenko, the European Union, the United States of America and the United Nations to achieve peace in these regions through ceasefires and sanctions on Russia. Despite these efforts hostility, warfare and bloodshed have continued. In 2019, in spite of his lack of bureaucratic and political experience, Volodymyr Zelenskyi was elected as the new president. One of His Presidential Manifesto’s primary aims was to end the war in eastern Ukraine. In the past year, then, what has been achieved in his attempts to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?
On the 9th of December 2019, the French president Emmanuel Macron welcomed Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyi, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian president Vladimir Putin to the Élysée Palace in Paris to conduct the Normandy Format Meeting, also known as the Paris Meeting. The four leaders had a panel discussion, while Zelenskyi and Putin also had a private conversation. This was the first face-to-face interaction between the new Ukrainian leader and Putin, which raised both concern and suspicion in international circles as many feared that Zelenskyi would give in to Putin’s conditions on winding up the war. Although he had held the presidency for only six months at the time, Zelenskyi did not accede to any inequitable resolutions. Both presidents agreed to exchange prisoners and, most imperatively, devised another ceasefire, which at that time was the twenty-first ceasefire since the beginning of the fighting. The leaders also discussed the possibility of holding elections in Donbass, and Zelenskyi asserted that he would allow elections to take place if they would be held under Ukrainian Law, and only after Ukraine had regained full control of the regions. As a result of the Paris Meeting, an exchange of captives was carried out by the end of 2019 in the town of Horlivka in Donbass. But unfortunately the twenty-first ceasefire agreement did not have any major effects, just like the other twenty during Poroshenko’s presidency.
One of the most significant setbacks for Ukraine in 2020 was the Annual Munich Security Conference in February. Many commentators have claimed that the Ukrainian crisis was extremely overlooked at this conference, citing a troubling lack of reporting on it. In a report of seventy pages on the conference, Ukraine and the de facto war were only mentioned seven times. Correspondingly, Ukraine was placed last on the list of international crises to observe in 2020. This made the immensely influential conflict seem inconsequential in modern day international relations.
The most recent development in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is the twenty-ninth ceasefire, which came into effect on the 27th of July 2020. This ceasefire was linked to international diplomacy and the Normandy Peace Talks that brought Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France together. This has been the most effective ceasefire since the beginning of the war, and fighting has significantly decreased. Before July 27, there were thousands of ceasefire violations reported weekly by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Since this truce has been implemented, only a few dozen violations have been reported every week, alongside a significant decrease in casualties.
The discussed crisis is not only Ukrainian but international. Russia, just like Ukraine, wishes for improved relations with the West, and the West similarly desires healthy relations with the East. It is impossible for these relationships to improve with the war dragging on. Russia, Ukraine and the West must cooperate to ensure territorial integrity and internationally recognised borders, which are essential to Ukraine’s return to its former peace and relatively stable political, economic and social conditions.
Originally published 05.12.20 in Vol. 4 No. 1.