LONDON – A significant increase in tensions between Russia and Ukraine in recent weeks has fueled fears of a resurgence of military conflict.
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea by Ukraine in 2014, shootings between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists have been going on in Donbas, a region in eastern Ukraine. About 14,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting, which was interrupted by ceasefire periods (which both sides accused the other of violating).
Last week, Ukraine said that four of its soldiers were killed by shelling by Russian forces in Donbas.
Earlier in March, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Ruslan Khomchak, said Russia’s “armed aggression” on Donbas was a “great danger” not only to Ukraine’s national security but to all NATO allies. Earlier this week, he said there had been a build-up of Russian troops near the border.
Russian actions did not go unnoticed in the United States On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity “faced with Russian aggression,” the State Department said in a statement.
Addressing Ukraine’s foreign minister, Blinken “expressed concern over the security situation in eastern Ukraine and expressed condolences over the recent loss of four Ukrainian soldiers,” the statement added.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it was worried about rising tensions in eastern Ukraine and feared that Kiev forces might do something to relaunch the conflict.
“We are concerned about the growing tension and we are concerned that the Ukrainian side could in one way or another take provocative actions that would lead to war. We really do not want to see that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“I mean the civil war that was already there,” Peskov said, when asked to explain at a conference call with journalists.
Speaking on Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who tried to reach a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “serious concern over the escalation of the armed confrontation on the contact line caused by Ukraine.” and, as Russia sees it, Ukraine’s “refusal” to honor agreements that were part of the latest ceasefire coordinated in July.
Timothy Ash, a senior strategist for emerging markets at BlueBay Asset Management, noted on Wednesday that “Putin seems to be trying to test and examine the West’s defenses and choose to oppose him – perhaps this is the prelude to a new military offensive in Ukraine.”
“Putin seems to be preparing for a big step – perhaps turning to his problems at home with Navalny and focusing on … State Duma elections. A victory in Ukraine would throw some red meat at the nationalist crowd in Russia again and expose the West’s weakness again.” , he added, referring to imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.
Ash advised Russian observers to watch out for the water shortage recorded in Crimea. whose roots were established seven years ago when Ukraine closed the North Crimean Canal, cutting off most of the region’s freshwater supply.
“If I were to look anywhere in the south and the water problems experienced in Crimea. The risk is that Russia is trying diversionary tactics in Donbas, when the bigger reward would be military pushing into Ukraine to take over watercourses that supply Crimea with water,” Ash said.
“Perhaps Putin thinks the West is weak and divided and cannot respond,” Ash continued, citing inadequate sanctions by the Joe Biden administration over, for example, the Nordstream pipeline, over a SolarWinds hacker who broke into government government networksand meddling in the 2016 election “as a signal that the United States is only petrified to act out of fear of what Russia might do.”