Ukraine is calling for Western intervention to calm the situation in the eastern regions of the country, while the Kremlin is expressing its “deep concern” about the “rising tensions”.
On March 19, Ukraine denounced an escalation of violence on the front lines with pro-Russian militants in the Donbass region, calling on the West to intervene while Moscow said it feared a “total armed conflict”.
“We have been witnessing an escalation of the conflict in recent weeks,” said Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration.
Yermak called on Washington and Kiev’s European allies, such as Paris and Berlin, the “sponsors” of the peace process, to “intensify” their efforts to calm the situation.
“Premeditated challenges are under way against the Ukrainian armed forces to end the fragile ceasefire that has been in place since July, the largest since the war broke out in 2014,” he said.
War and ceasefire
The war in Ukraine’s Donbass, which has claimed lives of more than 13,000 people since its outbreak, began after a pro-Russian Ukrainian president fled to Russia and pro-Westerners arrived in Kiev. In the wake of this regime change, Moscow annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. After months of fierce fighting, hostilities escalated to a large extent, resulting in signing of the Minsk peace agreements in February 2015.
Four years later, former actor Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine with the promise of ending the war. However, after some temporary progress – a summit, some prisoner exchanges and the withdrawal of troops from several front line areas that are not of a great importance – the peace process was again at an impasse.
In July 2020, the warring parties managed to agree on a new ceasefire, which was more or less respected for months, which left hopes for a more lasting settlement.
Last year, Ukraine reported 50 soldiers dead in its ranks compared to 100 in 2019, a decrease mainly due to this ceasefire, but, since the beginning of the year, the tension has gradually begun to increase.
“We have what has not happened to us for months, we have some of our trips (to the conflict zone) postponed because shots were fired overnight,” said Florence Gillett, head of the delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ukraine.
Since mid-February, eight Ukrainian soldiers have been killed on the front line. Kiev has implicated Moscow and the DPR/LPR militants, accusing them of using weapons banned by the Minsk peace agreements.
The separatists announced yesterday the death of one fighter.
On March 18, the Kremlin expressed “deep concern over rising tensions” at the front, blaming Kiev.
“We observe more and more bombings coming from the Ukrainian side,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, warning of the risk of a repeat of “total war.”
Despite its denials, Russia is considered in Kiev and the western capitals to be a supporter of the separatists by their supply of troops, weapons and funding.
“Russia is a party to this conflict and not a mediator,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Tuesday during a visit to the front lines in Ukraine.
According to the head of the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kiev, Oleksandr Litvinenko, “Moscow is trying to put pressure on Kiev, to intimidate it.”