LONDON – A sharp rise in tensions between Russia and Ukraine in recent weeks raises fears of a revival of the military conflict.
Since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, there has been ongoing clashes between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine. The fighting, interrupted by ceasefire periods (which both sides have accused of injuring the other), is believed to have killed around 14,000 people.
Last week, Ukraine said four of its soldiers were killed in shelling by Russian forces in Donbass.
In early March, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Ruslan Khomchak, said that Russia’s “armed aggression” in Donbass posed a “great threat” not only to the national security of Ukraine but to all NATO allies. Earlier this week, he said that Russian troops had been gathering near the border.
Russia’s actions in the US have not gone unnoticed On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine “in the face of ongoing aggression by Russia,” the State Department said in a statement.
Speaking to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Blinken expressed “concerns about the security situation in eastern Ukraine and expressed condolences to the recent loss of four Ukrainian soldiers,” the statement added.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was concerned about mounting tensions in eastern Ukraine and feared that Kiev armed forces could do something to resume conflict.
“We are concerned about the growing tension and that the Ukrainian side could, in one way or another, take provocative measures that could lead to war. We really don’t want to see that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Reuters.
“I mean a civil war that has already been going on,” said Peskov when asked to clear a conference call with reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday spoke to Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have tried to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine, about “serious concerns about the escalation of armed confrontation on the Ukraine-provoked contact line “. and, according to Russia, Ukraine’s “refusal” to honor agreements that were part of the last ceasefire coordinated in July.
Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, noted on Wednesday: “It seems like Putin is trying to test and investigate the West’s defenses and decide to confront him – maybe this is the prelude to too a new military offensive in Ukraine. “
“It feels like Putin is preparing for a big step – perhaps a distraction to his own problems at home with Navalny and focusing on … State Duma elections. A victory in Ukraine would benefit the nationalist crowd in Russia and Russia throw some red meat again. ” re-expose the weakness of the West, “he added, referring to the imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.
Ash advised Russian observers to keep an eye on the water shortage in the Crimea. The roots were laid seven years ago when Ukraine blocked the North Crimean Canal, cutting off most of the region’s freshwater supplies.
“If I were to look somewhere south and to the water problems in Crimea. The risk is that Russia will try diversionary tactics in Donbass if the bigger price is a military advance into Ukraine to conquer waterways that Crimea is having Supply water. ” Said Ash.
“Perhaps Putin believes the West is weak and divided and unable to react,” continued Ash, citing inadequate sanctions by the Joe Biden administration, for example, on the Nordstream gas pipeline because of the SolarWinds hack that targeted the US government’s networks and the 2016 election meddling “as a signal that the US is only petrified to act for fear of what Russia might do.”