In yet another diplomatic row Russia has expelled a Ukrainian diplomat, their foreign ministry stated on Monday; reciprocating the expulsion of a Russian diplomat in Kyiv (Reuters). The Russian diplomat was initially expelled in response to Russia’s expelling of a Ukrainian consulate worker in St. Petersburg earlier this month. According to Reuters, Ukraine’s foreign ministry has announced their intention to expel another diplomat.
It is unclear when this most predictable cycle will end.
Russia right now is engaged in a diplomatic expulsion-fest, trading blows with the Czech Republic over a 2014 bombing and then also expelling Romanian and Italian officials. Russia’s relationship with Ukraine, however, is perhaps of the most diplomatic importance. Of course, embassy and consulate workers are towards the bottom of both nations’ priorities.
Russian-Ukrainian relations have remained sour ever since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. The region is still disputed, and recognized by the UN as part of Ukraine, but effectively is now part of the Russian Federation. A referendum on whether to join Russia was held, but boycotted by pro-Ukraine supporters, leading to a 90% victory for secession. It is still not clear how much of the population, which is 65% ethnically Russian, actually support their integration into Russia.
That question is even more fraught in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, made up of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (about the size of Connecticut). Separatist militia in Donbas, with the help of Moscow, are engaged in a bitter conflict with pro-Ukraine forces, and it only appears to be escalating.
The Wall Street Journal estimates that since 2014, 14,000 people have been killed in Donbas. In just April, cease-fires have been breached as many as 9,000 times, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, doubling 2021’s total. And neither side is particularly optimistic about it ending any time soon. As quoted in the WSJ, senior advisors on both sides are prepared for a fight. “There is no room for a win-win situation. Someone has to lose,” said Vladimir Frolov (Russia). And Ukrainian security advisor, Oleksiy Arestovych, said: “The conflict with Russia will continue in the next 10 to 15 years. They will not leave us alone.”
Tensions escalated further last month when Russia redirected a number of troops and munitions into Crimea as well as the Voronezh and Rostov oblasts of Russia, near the Ukrainian border. Russian officials claimed that they were there for training exercises, and that they have already begun withdrawing. It’s not clear how many troops remain.
Hopefully Arestovych’s forecast of at least a decade more of fighting proves to be mistaken. Donbas represents the only active armed conflict in Europe. Russia and Ukraine expelling one another’s diplomats one by one likely won’t change that.
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