The stand-off in Eastern Ukraine continues.
The militias continue to hold parts of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Russia continues to play some role in supporting them. Anything from ‘moral support’ in the words of one militia fighter to columns of armour if we believe the claims emanating from Kiev – and often echoed by the US. This observer’s guess is that Russian military intelligence is involved to a small extent and that there is some degree of re-armament. (The conflict has gone on for some time and the militias will need re-supplying; there can, surely, be only so many supplies left in old Soviet arms dumps?).
The position of Russia is that Kiev needs to implement the agreements it signed up to in Minsk. That is to grant local autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk; an amnesty, local elections and political devolution. Moscow points out that Kiev has yet to start a dialogue with the representatives of the rebellious provinces. But Kiev appears to have no intention of implementing anything that looks like regional autonomy.
The EU and the US (?) are backing Kiev. NATO countries are arming and training Kiev’s forces. The line of the EU and the US is that Russia should stop its support for the militias. The idea presumably is that without Russian support including support by volunteers the militias will not be able to withstand an assault by Kiev, newly trained and armed by NATO countries including Britain. Then Kiev could crush resistance and impose its will on the rebellious territories. No matter to the EU that the population in these areas does not want to join the EU and were not represented in the EU backed Maidan coup. That they – and democracy – would in fact be crushed by a Soviet style use of tanks against civilians is an irony which it seems is lost on the current EU political class.
However, Russia is it seems not willing to permit this scenario. The inability of Kiev to get its house in order and ‘stamp out corruption’ (a EU euphemism for organisation corruption on a proper basis as is done in Western countries) makes it harder for the EU to work with Kiev. Kiev may get desperate and try to create a crisis and force Russia to declare their hand openly and thus blackmail the EU/US into supporting them militarily. But it isn’t 100% certain that the EU would in fact back them if they go down this path. The EU prefers sanctions to try to force Russia to withdraw support. But sanctions aren’t working. No military solution but no win by economic pressure either. Meanwhile in announcing that they will accept documents from the DNR and LPR Russia has sent a message to Kiev and to their masters in the EU; if you don’t resolve this soon you will lose this territory altogether. As the fighting has gone on it is increasingly unlikely that the militias will accept anything less than very substantial autonomy; to the extent that it is unlikely they would accept police or army from Kiev in the regions they control at all.
Neither Kiev’s military solution nor the EU’s economic one look like being able to facilitate the re-taking of the liberated areas. For Ukraine the only way out might be a change of government to one which could carry through the necessary political and constitutional reforms. But such a government seems, at the moment, some way off. As time goes on the areas controlled by the militias will become de facto parts of Russia.