Foto: Emil Filtenborg.

In the past week we have seen tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine Nu unravels the situation.

Since July, Ukraine has been enjoying a largely successful ceasefire with the Russian backed separatists currently occupying large parts of Donetsk and Logansk Oblast. But peace is a fragile thing.

For the past weeks, OSCE has observed a sharp rise in ceasefire violations and Ukraine has already lost around 30 soldiers – more than half of what Ukraine lost during the entire year of 2020.

Russia is also gathering huge military forces close to the Ukrainian borders and experts, pundits and politicians are left asking one question: Are the Russians coming? Will this be the second wave of the 2014-15 war?

To the best of our ability, Ukraine Nu will try to give you a little insight into what is going on between Russia and Ukraine. Naturally, before discussing current events, agreeing on the background is usually the best place to start.

When it all began

Everyone who has the slightest interest in Ukraine has heard about the 2014 separatist movement who with Russian support conquered a large part of Eastern Ukraine in the area known as Donbas.

Just as well-known is the 2014 Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, that put Ukraine and Russia at each others throats. The two incidents are often considered a part of the same war, and came as a reaction to the Revolution of 2013/14.

The revolution managed to oust president Viktor Yanukovich, who was trying to get closer ties with Russia instead of the EU. People went to the streets, where they were met with brutality, but after three months, the president stepped down.

During 2015, the fighting over Donbas and Crimea settled into what is called a frozen conflict, where the two sides dug trenches, fortified their positions and sat waiting for either war or peace.

Since 2015, the frontline has been calm, considering that it was still an ongoing armed conflict. Once in a while, the conflict would flare up, but mostly it was kept in a stalemate not moving towards neither fighting or reconciliation.

Tensions rises again

But while the conflict has seen escalations – the last major one was in the beginning of 2020 – there has not been any rise in tensions just like this one. Measured in size, casualties and international reaction, what is going on now is indeed extraordinary.

It is hard to say, where the conflict began, and what has led to the situation we find ourselves in now. However, there are a few monumental events, that could have led to where we are now.

In February, the Ukrainian president Volodimir Zelensky started talking about NATO membership very frequently. Having Ukraine in NATO is not in the interest of Russia, so this could be seen as the first provocation. As the pro-Kremlin news outlet RT writes:

“For eastern neighbor Russia, classified by Kiev as a “military adversary,” Ukraine joining the US-led alliance would cross a red line. On multiple occasions, the Kremlin has voiced concern over NATO moving its military infrastructure facilities closer to Russia’s borders. As things stand, the country shares two land borders with NATO countries, Estonia and Latvia. Their accession to the group was contrary to assurances made in the 1990s by Western leaders that the bloc would not expand further east than Germany.”

Secondly, Volodimir Zelensky has also been taking a hard stance against oligarch and MP, Viktor Medvedchuk. In February, Zelensky sanctioned an ally of the oligarch and closed his TV-station.

Viktor Medvedchuk is not just any pro-Russian politician. He is a close friend – at least publicly – of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and one of the driving forces behind the pro-Russian party in Ukraine.

Tensions were brewing 

Already after the sanctions against oligarch Medvedchuk, the temperature of the conflict started rising with more ceasefire violations. Slowly, but surely, the number of violations kept growing.

In the meantime, the platform under Vladimir Putin has been more and more shaky. The COVID19 pandemic followed by the assassination attempt on the Russian politician Alexei Navalny has put Putin under pressure.

It all flared up, when Navalny had recuperated from his poisoning and left Germany for Russia. He was arrested on arrival and has been in prison since, but the arrest sparked protests all over Russia.

Some experts point to this as a reason why Putin might be interested in turning the eyes towards Ukraine and the West, the traditional enemies of the Kremlin. Since then, Russia has been sending soldiers to Western Russia, the West has been decrying it and Ukraine has responded by sending their soldiers east.

Alarm levels all over the board has been raised, and the US are planning sending the navy to the Black Sea, while Turkey is also getting mixed up in this as a NATO country.

Here we are

As tensions were brewing with hardline statements coming from both sides, it all culminated in late March when four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one day close to the contact line near the village Shumy, a small settlement between Toretsk and Horlivka.

Furthermore, Russian media started writing about a five-year-old child that had been killed by an Ukrainian drone strike in the occupied city of Donetsk. The boys death has been confirmed, but the drone strike has not.

Still the way the story has been reported in Russian media leads memories to the rumours spread by Russian news outlets in 2014 about the Ukrainian soldiers crucifying a boy in Slovyansk in 2014. The story was used to justify military intervention in Ukraine.

While the story about the crucified boy was fake, this is one of the major reasons for concern among many commentators as the story bears a striking resemblance with what we are seeing now.

What will happen

What the intentions of the Russian troop movements are, presumably, only known to very few people surrounding Putin, but over all most experts seems to be discussing three possible scenarios:

First of all, the idea that Russia is preparing a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Since 2015, the Ukrainian army has become more and more efficient and professional. They are heavily fortified in Eastern Ukraine. It is currently the second largest army in Europe. Andrey Buzarov is an expert with the KyivStratPro analytical group.

“I am not sure Russia is interested in escalation at this moment,” he said. “The relocation of the military techniques and tanks is a bad move but does not mean there will be intense military escalation. I also don’t think Zelenskyy is interested,” said Buzarov to Euronews.

The army sizes and preparations would make a full scale invasion extremely costly, both in terms of money but more importantly the casualties on both sides would be high. Therefore some people are also looking for the possibility of a smaller invasion.

Establishing a land connection between Russia and Crimea, for instance, is one of the ideas being discussed.

A third option is, that Putin is trying to force Ukraine to negotiate from a weaker starting point. This would make the military formations forming in Russia into a big bluff, but that does not take much of the edge off the situation.

Two angry armies standing in front of each other for a long time could mean that some over enthusiastic soldier or commander does something, that would force the other side to respond, eventually spiralling both countries into a full on war.

What will happen remains yet to be seen, but the situation is more serious than it has been for the past six years. On that, most people agree.