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Ukraine Declares a Fragile Cease-Fire, But Doubts Abound

3 MINS READSep 3, 2014 | 12:12 GMT
Ukraine Declares a Fragile Cease-Fire
Ukrainian fighters from the Azov Battalion reach a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, on Sept. 2.
(KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Sept. 3 that he and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had reached an agreement on a permanent cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. The wording of Ukrainian statements was later amended to simply a "cease-fire," while a Russian spokesman said that Putin did not agree to any truce at all, given that Russia is not party to the conflict. Furthermore, officials from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic claimed that the declaration of the cease-fire was a unilateral move by Ukraine and the separatists are not obligated to adhere to it.

As Stratfor noted Sept. 2, a marked increase in Russian support for the rebels and direct intervention in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have effectively crippled Kiev’s military operation, pressuring Ukraine to begin negotiating an end to the conflict.

Indeed, Russian and separatist units continued their advances Sept. 3, seizing large numbers of villages and towns south of Donetsk and to the south and southeast of Luhansk. The Ukrainian General Staff has gradually pulled its troops back to more suitable defensive positions over the past two days in an attempt to maintain cohesion and extricate threatened units from encirclement.

Even if both sides agree to the cease-fire terms, it is not certain that all separatist forces — or some Ukrainian volunteer forces — will respect the truce, and sporadic low-level skirmishes could continue, especially as forces attempt to disengage. Additionally, Russia's role in supplying, advising and even leading the separatists has undoubtedly given Moscow a substantial amount of control over local rebel units.

Ultimately, a once-confident Poroshenko is attempting to salvage what little he can from significant battlefield reversals as Kiev’s exhausted troops face increasingly dismal odds. From the Ukrainian point of view, the military operation was a relative success against local rebel forces until the Russians increased their direct involvement. Since then, Kiev has found its own forces, backed by meager NATO aid, unable to compete with the addition of troops from Moscow.

If an enduring cease-fire comes into effect — and much needs to happen before that becomes a reality — Putin may have already acquired his desired outcome in a Ukraine that is increasingly turning to the West: namely, the setting up of a new frozen conflict in the region. A perpetual conflict in Donbas coupled with Ukraine's reliance on Russian energy supplies, would give Moscow significant political power over Kiev and ensure that Moscow's integral national interests are protected. Before then, Russia will continue to press its military advantage for more gains.

Whether Russia ultimately succeeds or fails will be determined by the events in Ukraine, by the actions of the United States and the European Union, and by NATO’s evolution in the former Soviet periphery. Therefore, it may be in Moscow’s best interest to quickly reach an agreement before the West intensifies its response through more economic sanctions or through greater NATO deployments and rotations in the alliance states of Eastern Europe.

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