Sable Liggera '17
Assistant News Editor
After 10 months of continuous violence between Kiev and Ukraine’s pro-Russia, pro-separatist rebel forces, the Donetsk’s People’s Republic, a ceasefire finally came into accord last week. After a series of talks taking place in Minsk, Belarus, a complete ceasefire was declared, a buffer zone was established between Kiev and the People’s Republic forces.
While this may seem like a step in the right direction, this stage of diplomacy was already attempted last year. In September of 2014, a ceasefire was previously attempted; called the Minsk Memorandum. Its terms called for a bilateral ceasefire and heavy weaponry to be pushed back from the front lines and kept out of residential areas. However, after a series of ceasefire violations, violence resumed.
Dubbed Minsk II, the most recent ceasefire had nearly identical terms: starting Feb. 15, artillery was to be withdrawn, prisoners exchanged and amnesty given to those involved in the fighting. Shortly thereafter, Minsk II seems to have gone down a similar route as its predecessor.
Just after the ceasefire was agreed upon, separatist allied forces seized the city of Debaltseve. In the aftermath of the fighting in Debaltseve, Kiev’s forces were pressured to retreat, surrendering Debaltseve to occupation. After the fighting stopped, the city of 25,000 was reduced to 4,000 due to casualties and mass civilian exodus. It is believed that the city was taken due to its strategic value in connecting Ukrainian railways to Donetsk and Luhansk, two Ukrainian cities near its Russian border, which act as the separatist forces’ main strongholds.
In a BBC interview, Alexander Hung described the situation in Debaltseve as disastrous to its occupants: “The local population reported to us that there is no water, no food, no gas, no heating, no electricity, no medication.”
Since the violence began in Ukraine 10 months ago, there have been an estimated 5,600 casualties and a displacement of around 1.5 million.
Even after the attack of and occupation of Debaltseve, both the rebels and nationalists have reported instances where the other continues shelling and heavy mortar attacks on their bases of power.
The Russian government has since denied its involvement with the Ukraine crisis; however, both the Ukrainian and the U.S. governments have just as staunchly accused it of providing arms and training to rebel forces. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, claimed the United States “knows to a certainty” Russia’s involvement and accused Russia of engaging in “extraordinarily craven behaviour at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.” In response, Kerry announced U.S. intentions to tighten sanctions against Russia.
Despite the continued violence, other aspects of Minsk II have continued to be implemented. On Saturday, Feb. 21, the rebel and nationalist forces exchanged 191 prisoners of war. There are also plans of a pullback by both forces beginning on March 8.