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The battle over Ukraine may have entered something of a stalemate. The conflict has lasted since February 2014 and has claimed some 10,000 lives and driven about one and a half million people from their homes. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which the UK supports and contributes to, continues to report ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, causing casualties almost every day.

The Ukrainian Government has not buckled, however, in spite of its many shortcomings. Nevertheless the prospect of it being able to re-take the eastern regions from Russia-backed separatists remains remote.

Russia, meanwhile, is suffering from stretched armed forces, having committed significant resources to Syria. Russian government finances are not particularly healthy, with the Russian economy remaining weak, battered by low oil prices and Western sanctions.

The decision on whether to authorise a proposed $47 million arms transfer to Ukraine remains with the Trump Administration. Both the President and Congress would have to approve the deal, which would include advanced Javelin anti-tank missiles. Despite the stated aim of the Trump Administration to improve relations with Russia, a Ukrainian parliamentarian said in November that the Ukrainians were “really satisfied with the acceleration of US-Ukraine relations at the moment”, and expected the deal to be approved.

The EU is not so enthusiastic about the idea, and the UK’s policy remains not to provide Ukraine with lethal military equipment, although that may be reviewed. The UK continues to support the Ukrainian military: from 2018 the UK and Canada will be running a joint programme for the Ukrainian armed forces, described by the MoD as “defensive, non-escalatory military training”.

With no decisive victory in sight, speculation has increased about some sort of accommodation. In September 2017 the Russia circulated a draft Security Council resolution for a UN peacekeeping force in Ukraine to protect OSCE observers along the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russian-controlled forces. Some have said that the proposal probably was not sincere.

Ukrainian politicians fear that a UN presence along the line of contact would only serve to harden the line of contact into a border. Presence of a serious peacekeeping force along the legal border between Ukraine and Russia could genuinely contribute to controlling the violence, however.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that any UN force would have to have access to the whole of the rebel-controlled area . Some German politicians are increasingly arguing for sanctions to be lifted in exchange for some deal. Some have even hinted at accepting the annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian Parliament is in the process of passing a ‘de-occupation bill’ that would recognise the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as occupied by Russia and reset the military campaign in the region from ‘anti-terrorist’ to ‘national defence’. This, the Ukrainians hope, will give the Russians the responsibility for the breakaway regions. Russia, on the other hand, would like Ukraine to pay the political and economic price for re-integrating the breakaway regions.

Ukrainian politics continues to be fractious. Nationalist currents in Ukrainian society continue to resist many of the provisions of the Minsk agreements, still the internationally-backed basis for progress, although the Government of Petro Poroshenko claims that it will implement them.

The fate of Mikheil Saakashvili points up the unstable and personalised nature of Ukraine’s politics. The former Georgian President is also a former friend of President Poroshenko. He was invited to Ukraine to act as a minister in Poroshenko’s government. But the two fell out and Saakashvili had his Ukrainian nationality taken away. He had already been stripped of his Georgian nationality and is wanted there on corruption allegations. Saakashvili was arrested after a rooftop chase in Kyiv, but protesters blocked the police from taking him away for questioning and ripped the doors off the police van, freeing Mr Saakashvili. Saakashvili shouted to the crowd after his release:

“I’m calling upon all to come to the Maidan [the central square of Kiev] and start the process of freeing the country from Poroshenko and his bandits … There is nothing to fear … let them fear us.”


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