Source: Nikola Mikovic
Russian and Ukrainian pro-war rhetoric on the Donbass continues to grow. Both sides are reportedly fueling the conflict that erupted in 2014, although at this point it remains uncertain if increased shelling and sniper fire will lead to a major war between the two countries.
According to reports, four Ukrainian soldiers have died and two others were injured on March 26 as a result of shelling. Kyiv constantly accuses Russia of attempting to sabotage the Minsk Agreements, signed in the Belarusian capital in 2015 by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, as well as the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. The document effectively ended all military offensives, although a comprehensive ceasefire, which was one of the major points of the so called Minsk II deal, has never been established. The region has been stuck in positional warfare, and there are speculations that large-scale hostilities will continue in the coming months.
In the meantime, Russian and Ukrainian leaders, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, could sign another truce agreement, although it is improbable that it would be implemented on the ground. Kyiv and Moscow are also expected to keep playing the blame game and sharpening their rhetoric. For instance, the very term “the Donbass” could soon become a matter of another dispute between the two countries. Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Aleksey Danilov urged media not to call Donetsk and Lugansk regions “Donbass”, since this word is “a narrative imposed by the aggressor country”.
“The word ‘Donbass’ does not exist in any regulatory document of our country. It is a definition that is being imposed on us by the Russian Federation. There are clear names for the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. There is no Donbass” – said Danilov.
On the other hand, Alexey Pushkov, member of the Federation Council of Russia, wrote in his Telegram channel that “the Donbass never had anything to do with Ukraine”.
“Residents of most parts of the Donbass do not want to be part of Ukraine. They received Russian passports – wrote Pushkov, emphasizing the region should not exist in any of Ukrainian documents, since its residents “never had anything to do with territories inhabited by Ukrainians”.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has reportedly signed a decree that outlines Kyiv’s plans for the return of not only the Donbass but also Crimea under Ukrainian sovereignty. Such actions would likely lead to a direct military confrontation with the Russian Federation, given that the Kremlin leaders have pointed out on several occasions that they would “protect the Donbass”.
“We will not abandon the Donbass. No matter what”, said Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 14, while on March 17 he said that any Kyiv’s attempts to return the Donbass by force could have “grave consequences” for Ukrainian statehood.
Although Ukrainian and Western mainstream media often speculate about Russia’s alleged plan to invade Ukraine, at this point such an option does not seem realistic. Moscow, through its proxies, already controls the Donbass mines and achieved its military and political goals in 2014 and 2015. Thus, it is Ukraine, rather than Russia, that has reasons to start a military offensive and recapture the energy-rich region. However, the problem for the Western-backed Ukrainian authorities is that they still did not get firm guarantees that Russia – in case of a potential Ukrainian offensive – will not intervene to protect the Donbass republics.
“The conflict in the Donbass may end within in a week, if Russia agrees,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Indeed, if Russia does not interfere, Ukraine would need not more than a week to capture the territory that is currently controlled by the Russia-backed fighters. The armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic can hardly hold their positions in case of a massive Ukrainian attack, especially if Kyiv is openly supported by NATO. That is why Russia’s role in this conflict is crucial. What also matters is if the United States – Ukraine’s major ally – is interested in another round of hostilities on the Russian borders.