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Although it appears in newspaper headlines infrequently, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has not gone away. In February 2020 the UN said that the conflict had claimed some 13,000 lives, since in 2014 Russian-backed separatists took control of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine.

The basis for negotiations in search of a political solution remain the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements, the first negotiated between Russia, Ukraine and representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway areas, and Minsk II negotiated between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. They are vaguely worded, however, and there is disagreement about the order in which agreed steps should take place.

Ukraine has taken legal action in various international courts.

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was handed a landslide election victory on the promise of peace in eastern Ukraine, or the Donbas as it is known.

Since the election he has signalled some concessions to Russia, including proposing an advisory council to consult representatives of the breakaway regions—the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and its counterpart in Luhansk. This implicit recognition of the breakaway authorities was abandoned after an outcry in Ukraine.

Ukraine and the breakaway authorities swapped prisoners in 2020, but the release of prisoners convicted of offences in repressing the Euromaidan protests in 2014 was unpopular in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s moves do not appear to have brought any concessions from Russia, which still maintains that the conflict is just a domestic dispute for Ukraine. Many observers think that Russia is in no hurry to resolve the conflict and would like to see a weakened Ukraine that cannot join the EU or NATO.

The Normandy Format group – France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine – was due to have another meeting in April 2020 but that meeting has not taken place. There are recent reports of heavy weaponry being moved closer to the conflict zones.

Partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, in June 2020 the IMF granted Ukraine a standby loan facility of $5 billion.


The UK supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and calls for Russia to stop fomenting violence.

A wide-ranging sanctions regime is in place against Russia as a result of its actions in Crimea and the Donbas. The UK continues to impose these EU-derived sanctions, although they have now been placed on a UK-only legal basis.

The UK used to argue strongly within the EU for a strong sanctions regime against Russia. The UK’s departure from the bloc increases uncertainty about the future of the sanctions regime.

There is a UK aid programme for Ukraine, involving both an element of humanitarian assistance due to the conflict, and development aid.

A Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement between the UK and Ukraine is close to being finalised; UK/Ukraine trade will no longer be subject to EU rules at the end of the transition period.

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