Violence Persists In Ukraine As Promised Summit Likely Cancelled

On February 10th, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko said he does not see any preparation taking place for a highly anticipated summit regarding the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. This comes just two months after Ukrainian and Russian officials, accompanied by delegates from France and Germany, met in Paris to discuss the crisis, and mutually agreed to hold another series of meetings before April. However, Prystaiko believes that such negotiations are unlikely to occur in the near future, and even if they do happen, they can be expected to produce less than meaningful results. Prystaiko voiced his concerns to a group of local reporters during a recent trip to Italy, where he accounted, “I have not seen anything prepared. Maybe it will be a much faster process than last time and maybe we will make much more progress. I am sorry, but I doubt it.”

The meetings in Paris over the winter holidays successfully led to a prisoner exchange consisting of more than 200 Ukrainian and Russian “conflict-related detainees.” In the days that followed, BBC reported that both sides “pledged to disengage military forces in three additional regions of Ukraine by the end of March 2020,” and that “additional talks will be held in four months to take stock of the ceasefire’s progress.” French President Emmanuel Macron expressed hope that these talks would lead to peace in Ukraine, stating that while “we didn’t find the miracle solution…we have advanced on it.” Russia’s Vladimir Putin echoed similar remarks and described the meeting as “an ‘important step’ towards a de-escalation of the conflict.” Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was far less optimistic of the outcome of the negotiations, and according to BBC, stating specifically that the meeting had achieved little, and there were more disputes he had hoped to resolve. This includes the “the withdrawal of Russian-backed troops, and elections in areas of Ukraine held by the separatists rebels.”

Violence first began in November 2013 when former President Victor Yanukovych rejected a proposal to increase economic integration with the European Union. This came after Yanukovych faced severe pressure from Russia to oppose the deal, who according to CNN, “[have] long opposed Ukraine forming closer ties with the EU.” A fallout of mass protest and bloodshed known as Euromaidan broke out across the streets of Kyiv as a result, and opposition against the President grew after the state attempted to counter the political unrest with violent security measures, even authorizing snipers to target demonstrating civilians. Yanukovych inevitably fled the country and continues to live exiled in Russia after being convicted of treason by a Ukrainian court. 

Following Euromaidan, Putin authorized Russian troops to invade Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine which has a long history of close ties with the Kremlin. Eventually, Russia formally annexed the territory after Crimean’s voted in a local referendum to join the federation, which has been regarded “by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate,” writes CNN’s Nick Thompson. Ukraine responded with military aggression against pro-Russian separatists “who [had] seized government buildings” in eastern regions near the Russian border. Conflict further escalated after rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine through a series of further referendums. Over the last six years, violence has persisted at an alarming rate, resulting in over 13,000 deaths, including 298 civilians aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed in “rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine,” after being targeted by a surface-to-air missile. No ceasefire has yet successfully produced lasting peace, and Minister Prystaiko recent comments reveal a consistent pattern of inaction and failed negotiations by world leaders who lack the motivation necessary to prioritize this crisis. 

First and foremost, western nations must be unified in embracing the magnitude and repercussions of the violence in Ukraine as Russia maintains a threatening presence in eastern Europe. While EU leaders slapped Russia on the wrist with minimally effective sanctions for annexing Crimea, the state has engaged on a worldwide anti-democratic campaign, demonstrated in their successful hacking of the 2016 American election and sponsoring the human rights-abusing Al-Assad regime in Syria and Houthis rebels in Yemen. Vladamir Putin must be held accountable for undermining free speech and supporting global violence. Understandably, this will be a great challenge, as Russia is a prominent player in international politics, especially in the United Nations, and punishing Moscow could lead to undesirable consequences. However, the death toll in Ukraine, as well as in Syria and Yemen, will undoubtedly rise unless action is taken and Putin is brought to justice.

Peter Koenigsbauer