Article by: Taras Klochko
With the approach of a probable meeting in the “Norman” format, and even without it, the conditional truce in the Donbas is again turning into trench warfare. During the night of January 7-8, the positions of Ukrainian troops were shelled eight times, and during the day on January 8, sixteen times, and last night (January 8-9) there were already 50 attacks. This is not the first time that the increase in attacks has coincided with the arrival of another Putin “humanitarian convoy,” and this is absolutely not accidental. Therefore, one can conclude that after a certain lull that followed the “silence regime” declared on December 9, the situation has gradually returned to the previous state of trench warfare — without active offensive operations but with constant attacks. A long-term ceasefire in the Donbas has failed again, and this has happened for one reason only — real silence in the Donbas is not at all beneficial for Putin and neither is continued serious escalation. This is why the Russian president is doing everything to maintain the situation of “neither peace nor war.”
By fueling the fires of war in the Donbas, Putin is pursuing several of his own goals at the same time. First, he is aggravating a festering wound on the body of Ukraine, forcing our country to bear human and material losses and thereby disturbing the internal political situation in Ukraine. There is no doubt that the fourth wave of mobilization expected for January 10 will be accompanied by the next FSB (Russian security service — Ed.) inspired “pacifist” anti-mobilization actions.
Second, by keeping constant tension at the battlefront, Putting is keeping his entire contingent of mercenaries and regular troops in a state of combat readiness — a contingent he himself has armed and dispatched to Ukraine. After all, the only thing these people can do is fight. In the event of a complete cessation of hostilities, the morale of this entire assemblage will undoubtedly deteriorate, with all the possible unpleasant consequences for the Russian leadership.
Third, and most important, the situation of a smoldering conflict is especially advantageous for Putin in light of future negotiations in the “Normandy format” (Ukraine, Germany, France, Russia). The Russian dictator understands perfectly that he has nothing to gain from a complete ceasefire in the Donbas, since nobody will cancel the sanctions. As Chancellor Angela Merkel explained, the only condition for reviewing a portion of the sanctions is complete adherence to the Minsk agreements, which, in addition to requiring a ceasefire, include other requirements that Putin has no interest in fulfilling. Therefore, if a ceasefire takes place in the Donbas, then Merkel and Hollande will demand that Putin adhere to the following conditions: establishment of control over the section of the border located in Russian-occupied territory, withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the line of conflict, and later withdrawal of his own mercenaries from the zone of conflict. Why would Putin lower the stakes himself without receiving any concessions in return? Therefore, the shelling of Ukrainian positions in all likelihood with continue, and Putin in the meantime will continue to bargain with the West, demanding some easing of sanctions in exchange for a ceasefire. As for satisfying the other requirements of the Minsk accords, that is completely out of the question.
In this situation Ukraine has only one option left — to give an adequate military response to instances of truce violations by Putin’s terrorists. Any hope that the militants will stop shelling voluntarily because of Putin’s good will is currently unrealistic.