There are many conflicts that are out of the media beat, including the ongoing confrontation in Ukraine between national government, Russian-sponsored separatist and Russian armed forces. Said conflict is in progress since 2014, with a significant portion of Ukraine – the Crimea region – de facto annexed by Russia in spite of every international treaty.
Now the focus in located mainly in the Donbass region, where 2016 has been the first year without loss of territory for the national forces. Last year we had a number of frail cease-fire agreements, negotiated between loyalist and separatist, that lasted each few days before another round of surprise attacks or for a new round of artillery shelling on a sensitive target.
Last month, the last of said cease-fire agreements has been violated by the separatist with a six-day battle in the city of Avdiivka (ended February, 4th); the so-called “industrial zone” of the city is used as a buffer zone between the opposite forces, a place where no troops or heavy equipment could be placed under the last cease-fire negotiated by OSCE. Both loyalist and separatist claim violation on the opposite side, until the battle raged in full force with heavy shelling from the separatist in the aforementioned “industrial zone”.
Aside from any military or tactical advantage, the main consequence was (and is) a humanitarian emergency. More than 17,000 civilians were left with no power, water, and heat. Winter in Ukraine is quite impressive and the national government has been forced to declare a state of emergency for the whole area. To date, it’s unclear when the emergency will be over. A partial evacuation of the city is in progress, a telltale sign of more fighting in the days to come.
To date, it looks like that no western troops will be deployed in the area in order to avoid any possible contact with the separatist (or with Russian special forces). So far, the Ukrainian government received a lot of promises and some funds from EU and a number of NGO, plus some batch of non-lethal equipment from the US. It’s just a matter of time before Putin calls for a new wave of attacks under the flag of the Donetsk People’s Republic to break the front at Avdiivka. If such an action took place, the whole Donbass region could fall into the hands of the pro-Russian separatist.
Once again, this is a clear call for action for both EU and US. Economic sanctions against Russia are not enough to save the independence of Ukraine and a peacekeeper force must be deployed in the Donbass area as soon as possible. No less than a brigade-sized unit is needed, with a full air support in place. It’s a matter of common sense, in order to achieve a demilitarization of the conflict area plus the start of a diplomatic phase of confrontation between loyalist and separatist.
The new American president is unlikely to get involved in such a project and the national political elections that will be held in France and in Germany will tell us if the cause of the nationalism will become the main interest in the EU. In such a scenario, the future for the Donbass region looks grim.