By: Rachel Cain – Staff Writer
A cease-fire negotiation established Feb. 11 between the Ukrainian government and Russian rebels started to deteriorate last week with the rebel capture of Debaltseve, a city in the eastern region of Ukraine. Western leaders remain hopeful this armistice may succeed in bringing greater peace and stability to the region.
The Ukraine-Russia crisis began in November 2013 with protests in Kiev against then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to strengthen relationships with Russia rather than with the European Union, according to the BBC. Soon after, Russia annexed Crimea, an autonomous region within Ukraine, and fighting between separatists and Ukrainian government forces has continued throughout Ukraine. The Minsk agreement was developed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Holland and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a 16-hour negotiation session, according to the BBC. The cease-fire agreement is the latest formal plan to bring an end to the violence that has permeated the region resulting in the deaths of over 5,600 Ukrainian citizens and the displacement of about 1.6 million people, according to The New York Times.
The central points of the agreement are a cease-fire, which began Feb. 15, withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, release of all prisoners, withdrawal of foreign troops and weapons, lifting of restrictions in rebel-held regions, constitutional reform to enable decentralization of rebel regions by the end of 2015 and Ukrainian control of its border with Russia if all the conditions are met by the end of 2015, according to the BBC.
However, shortly after the agreement was signed, conflict broke out again.
The rebel leaders claimed the town of Debaltseve would not be included in the agreements, according to The Economist. The pro-Russian rebels said they would follow the cease-fire once they gained control of Debaltseve, which connects two rebel strongholds, according to The Guardian.
A rebel-led assault on the several thousand Ukrainian government troops located in Debaltseve continued despite plans for an armistice to begin Feb. 15, according to The Economst.
“The term ‘Ukraine crisis’ is a bit of a misnomer, because it makes it sound like it’s an internal conflict,” Jaro Bilocerkowycz, professor of political science at the University of Dayton, said. “A better way to describe it would be the Ukraine-Russia, Russia-Ukraine conflict.”
By Wednesday, as the Ukrainian forces retreated, the rebels took control of the city, according to The Economist. The Ukrainian government claims Russian troops backed the rebels, although Russia has denied sending any troops into the conflict in Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.
“The so-called separatist rebels, that kind of terminology is questionable,” Bilocerkowycz said. “If you rebel or you’re a separatist, that means you’re part of something. A key point is a lot of these so-called separatists aren’t Ukrainian citizens, they’re from Russia itself.”
Following the Ukrainian defeat at Debaltseve, Poroshenko requested U.N. support at the Ukraine-Russia border, as well as at the front lines of the rebel and government territory, according to The Washington Post. Russian diplomats opposed U.N. interference, saying any such U.N. action would disrupt the Minsk agreement.
However, the rebels have plans to take the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv, according to The Economist.
Numerous human rights violations have occurred in the rebel-controlled regions, according to Al-Jazeera America.
“While the new Kiev government of President Petro Poroshenko has generally shown an improved performance on human rights observance during its short time in office, the occupation authorities in Crimea and the ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk [rebel-occupied territories] have been notable for their brutality,” according to the Maplecroft Human Rights Risk Atlas.
The Maplecroft Human Rights Risk Atlas reported that the indigenous Crimean minority is under constant threat of harassment in Crimea, the region annexed by Russia.
“They don’t have democracy there, the elections are a sham,” Bilocerkowycz said. “In all these so-called separatist controlled areas, there’s no freedom of thought. It’s basically an authoritarian enclave.”
Following the Russian takeover of Debaltseve, leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany held a four-way call to rescue the Minsk cease-fire, according to The Guardian.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. will impose tougher sanctions on Russia if violations of the ceasefire continue, according to the BBC. She said if both sides respect the agreement, the U.S. will focus on the maintaining the cease-fire rather than increasing sanctions on Russia.
“I think [the U.S.] should impose tougher sanctions on Russia and I think other world leaders should do so as well,” Mike Brill, a junior political science major and president of the UD College Democrats, said. “There are a lot of people that aren’t involved in the fighting on either side who are being hurt by what’s happening.”
UD College Republicans could not respond to an email for comment.