Ukraine: The reoccurrence of clashes.

Sylia Bouabdellah. Translated by Darragh Hayes-Moriarty
17 Février 2015

The truce of December 9 2014 lasted no more than a few weeks. In fact, hostilities between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev are starting again. At the beginning of December, the rebels held a large territory stretching from Donetsk to the Russian border, while the army still controlled Donetsk airport, and the number of lives lost totalled 4,700. It was a situation that deteriorated in a matter of days: today the rebels have taken control of the airport and the number of deaths stretches to 5,000.

Crédit Philippe Desmazes, AFP
Crédit Philippe Desmazes, AFP
Tuesday January 13, a bus connecting Volnovakha and Donetsk was caught in an attack on a Ukrainian roadblock on the way into the city. Rocket fire left 13 dead and 15 or so injured. The deaths of the victims, civilians, deeply touched the people of Ukraine, who came together Sunday January 18th to pay their respects. The demonstration took place at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square. It is a place of great significance as it was where Ukrainians gathered during the Orange Revolution in 2004, and during the pro-European gatherings of 2013-14. A demonstrator when interviewed stated the following: “We are against Putin. We despise him.” In front of signs stating “We are Volnovakha”, the rebels and the state accuse each other.

But the attacks have multiplied, the rebels taking Donetsk airport by force on January 15. The airport was one of the main sites of clashes, but under fire, the army retreated and the rebels seized part of it.

This Saturday, rockets rained on the port of Mariupol. This strategic point is the last large city in the zone occupied by the separatists that remains loyal to Kiev. It could, under the control of the separatists, create a link between Russia and Ukraine. Thirty civilians died, with close to 100 injured. According to Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, it would seem that the rockets were blindly fired at civilian areas. He “vehemently condemned” the attacks, classing them as “violations of international humanitarian laws”. Responsibility for the bombing was claimed, to rapturous applause, by Alexander Zakharchenko, the self-proclaimed leader of the separatists, claiming that he took the city by force. However, certain senior officials in the separatist movement have denied their involvement, blaming a loyalist “provocation”.

An international dialogue of the deaf

Crédit Chuzavkov/AP/SIVA
Crédit Chuzavkov/AP/SIVA
The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko declared that he was “carefully optimistic” with regards to the ceasefire. Putin announced a plan for conflict resolution, and Ukraine was supported by the West. But during the following weeks, a considerable rise in clashes can be seen. From September 5 to November 18, 957 people were killed. The ceasefire of the month of December lasted a few weeks, but the separatist attacks have again been ongoing since the start of the month.

The leaders of several countries seek therefore to intervene to calm tensions. This Wednesday, a meeting on the question of Ukraine took place between the Foreign Affairs ministers of Germany, Ukraine, France and Russia. Kiev demanded that the 9,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine retreat. Faced with this request, Sergey Lavrov, The Russian Foreign Minister replied coldly, asking “Where is the proof?” and condemned an imperialist American conspiracy aiming to stifle Russia and to overthrow Putin using economic sanctions. Obama maintained during a press conference that the attack on Mariupol “was carried out by separatists with Russian support, Russian equipment, Russian funding, Russian training and Russian troops.” Meanwhile, Putin himself denies any involvement in the conflict.

Those in the West strongly condemn the separatist attacks and have demanded that Putin cut off all support to the rebels, or else, as Federica Mogherini states, there will be “a deterioration in the relations between the European Union and Russia.” The OSCE and NATO have condemned the attack on Mariupol, and the European heads of government may be summoned during the next week. Latvia is calling for new sanctions against the Kremlin.