Although the Minsk II Agreements have long been dead and buried after over two years of failed ceasefires, unfulfilled agreements, and sporadic fighting between the Kiev regime and the separatist Donbass region, U.S. and Russian officials continue to cling to the now defunct agreement in lieu of any other practical agreement that would satisfy both sides to the conflict. Yet, even as the U.S. and Russia pay lip service to the Minsk Agreement, the profound political battlefield and economic realities of the Ukrainian Civil War are undeniable and will determine the direction of the conflict. With that said, currently, the conflict still runs the risk of spreading to other regions of Ukraine and intensifying the already declared Cold War 2.0 between Russia and America.
Since the beginning of this year, Kiev has all but publicly confirmed its abandonment and forfeiture of the Donbass as a part of an already disunited Ukraine by cutting off the distribution of pensions, electricity, medical supplies, and instating a comprehensive economic blockade on coal, as well as other industrial goods and services of the breakaway provinces. This, coupled with the unrelenting shelling of residential neighbourhoods in the Donbass by the Ukrainian Armed Forces reveals the insincere intentions of Kiev in upholding the Minsk Agreements in a province where, after all the fratricidal destruction that has transpired, there can be no reconciliation or peace as long as the current anti-Russian Kiev authorities are in power. The leadership in Donbass, which has no diplomatic communication with Kiev has responded in turn by completing the de facto severing of Donbass from centralized Ukrainian control through a thorough integration of its economy and society with the Russian Federation, which is its only source of humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, Kiev’s willful actions in separating the Donbass from its control hasn’t eased tensions or deterred the government from pursuing a military solution to the conflict.
Thus, with the morale of its forces sapped and its weaponry in dire need of an upgrade, Kiev is hitching its bets on a full-scale escalation in East Ukraine on its powerful American patron. Thus far, the U.S. has provided military advisors and conventional arms to Ukraine’s inefficient conscription battalions (Azov, Aidar), but has stopped short until now of providing lethal military assistance that would see the conflict fatefully escalate. At the behest of U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, the Pentagon and State Department have, according to the Wall Street Journal, approved a plan to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft weapons, and other heavy equipment so it will be capable of waging a hot war to “stop Russia.” This belligerent rhetoric is explicitly encouraging a Cold War, of scorching temperatures, against Russia in a region fraught with instability, which does nothing to alleviate tensions and is indicative of the inverted reality of U.S. officials like Volker, who claim that this is the only way to restore the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state. Nonetheless, Russia has resolutely warned countries trying to play a role in the settlement of the conflict to refrain from measures that would exacerbate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Furthermore, for 2018, Washington has earmarked $410 million to boost Ukraine’s defence industry, which is three times the amount allocated in 2017. However, the depth of Ukraine’s increasing military coordination and engagement with the U.S. that could prove to be a red line and invoke a symmetrical or asymmetrical response from Russia is the United States’ construction of military bases and naval facilities in Ukraine, a nation that is not a part of NATO, but is functioning as a forward base of operations against Russia. The U.S. has already begun the construction of a maritime operations centre at the Ochakiv naval base in Ukraine, weeks after the Sea Breeze naval exercises hosted by Ukraine. Many Russian political analysts believe this would deepen hostilities between Washington and Moscow, and in an interview with Sputnik, former commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Igor Katasonov, said that such bases serve to surveil Russian forces in Crimea and pose a real threat to Russia’s security, with the worst case scenario being the deployment of U.S. missile defence system components in Ochakiv.
With that said, tensions between the two superpowers are ratcheting up and Russian lawmakers have suggested America be formally classified as an ‘aggressor’ nation that is in control of a rump ‘puppet’ state of Ukraine. However, these unoriginal American initiatives prescribe nothing more than conflict and may very well destroy the already fragile centralized control of Ukraine, while reigniting latent separatist aspirations in the rest of Ukraine. As such, this may ultimately cause Russian-oriented Ukrainians to come to further blows with the virulently anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists emanating from Kiev and Western Ukraine.