Is Ukraine’s ceasefire a sham?

Less than a month after agreeing to a cease-fire; Ukraine is once again a hotbed of violence. In recent days separatist insurgents have killed aid workers, civilians, and Ukrainian service personnel.  Yesterday separatists attacked the Donetsk airport in hopes of controlling the central transportation hub; killing 12 Ukrainian soldiers in the process. With each subsequent event the cease-fire appears annulled.

Beyond looming prospects of resumed violence with the sectarian groups, Ukrainian President  Petro Poroshenko and the Ukrainian government are struggling with other issues. To date, more than 1 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting and those who have stayed are dealing with diminishing infrastructure or destroyed infrastructure from the fighting.  And the cherry on the top is that Ukrainian banks are forecasting a 10% decline in the overall economy; certainly matters could be worse, but much remains desired. This doesn’t even include the fact that Ukraine has virtually no energy to survive the coming winter.

At the moment, the cease-fire is, by and large, dead. Or as separatist leader Oleg Tsarev called it, “The situation now can best be characterized as neither war nor peace.” Are we surprised at this outcome? We shouldn’t be.

Sure, the cease fire deal had some promising facets like removing Russian troops from the country and border (according to Russia they were never there anyway). But beyond that, it never covered the other major sources of conflict. First, the cease-fire did not require that both factions disarm or even reduce their arsenals of weapons. Secondly, the cease-fire never forced Russia out of the situation fully – to date they still provide the separatists with supplies, arms, and personnel. Thirdly, it doesn’t resolve the crisis, which means that Russia can capitalize on the seizure of Ukrainian industry in the Southeastern provinces, removing any incentive for Russian President Vladimir Putin to take the cease-fire or Ukrainian domestic issues seriously.

With so many factors reducing the ability of the Ukrainian government to gain leverage in the diplomatic discussions with separatists, the West should worry about the long term prospects of Ukraine. Moreover, the West needs to be equally as involved as Russia. This would mean following the footsteps of Germany who pledged $32 million dollars in infrastructural aid.  At this stage anything beyond economic aid and economic leverage against Russia would be unwise. Armed confrontation or even heightened tensions are prospects that no one wants, but they would be a likely result if NATO were to position troops within Ukraine.

The West needs to continue with what works: sanctions. Targeting the energy sector, banks, and what many call Putin’s cronies; the Russian economy is diminishing fast. On account of the sanctions,the Russian economy is on track to a recession for the first time since 2009. Forcing Russia to save its economy will likely prompt Putin to cleave Ukrainian separatists from the herd. It is also prudent for allies to give Ukraine energy to heat itself during the winter. For Ukraine and its supporters, time is on our side. If given aid and energy, Ukraine can outlast Putin and negotiate with separatists with diplomatic leverage; then perhaps a stronger peace or power sharing agreement could happen.

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