The Russian Influence: Rebels Begin a New Offensive in Eastern Ukraine
This week, Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine broke the ceasefire that was signed in early February. The fighting, which killed at least six on Tuesday, marked some of the first violence in the region since Ukrainian troops withdrew in accordance with the ceasefire.
In the next two days, two pro-Russian Ukrainian journalists were shot and killed in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. On top of this, rebel troops have been launching large-scale advances and artillery attacks against several towns still held by the Ukrainian army. In fact, there have been at least ten different instances just on Thursday alone where Russian-backed rebels broke the ceasefire.
So what does this all mean? What have the rebels been doing for the two months since the ceasefire was signed? What role is Russia playing?
These questions are all distinctly related. When the fighting restarted on Tuesday, many American officials took to Twitter. The United States ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, reported that the Russian military had been training and rearming its rebel groups. Geoffrey Pyatt, the American ambassador to Ukraine, linked this training directly to the renewed fighting.
Russia has been developing, training, and arming the rebel groups during the lull in the fighting. However they have also violated the ceasefire agreement by bringing heavy artillery into Donetsk. The presence of Russian heavy-armor and artillery only provides further evidence of the Russian involvement we were already aware of.
It is no surprise that Russia has had its hand in the fighting in Ukraine since day one, however these recent developments point to a drastically different direction in the future of this conflict. Russia has taken on a role of structural support. The goals are no longer focused on short-term territory gain, rather the rebels have been training, rearming, and digging in for the long run.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Ukraine, it appears that the past two months were not a sign of things to come. The ceasefire simply provided Russia the time it needed to train and arm the rebels, and fighting is flaring up with no long-term peace deal in sight. Ukrainians would do well to take the rebel approach, and prepare for a long war.