The country’s recently elected president, Petro Poroshenko, is trying to cobble together a deal to end the conflict with separatist rebels in the restive east:
In a meeting with the Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council on Monday, the newly elected president said that he will offer a ceasefire to separatists in the east “as early as this week,” but only on the condition that Ukrainian forces are first able to fully secure the Ukraine-Russia border. The thinking is that once the border is secured, separatists will be cut off from Russian resources and more likely to negotiate on the government’s terms. It will also afford Ukrainian troops some much-needed relief from the aggressive anti-terrorist operation, which killed 49 troops over the weekend when separatists shot down a Ukrainian plane near Luhansk.
Linda Kinstler goes on to give her assessment:
It’s not a bad plan, and it’s certainly a shrewd political move for Poroshenko, who is hoping that the peace plan’s emphasis on decentralization will drum up support for his government among eastern Ukrainians. But there are also a few serious problems that could compromise the entire effort, the first of which is that it is nearly impossible for Ukraine to secure the border at current capacity. …
Even if the border is adequately secured in the near future, it’s unlikely that the separatists will agree to a ceasefire. “That too is an aspirational goal, frankly, because there appear to be many factions, many actors who don’t seem to be reporting to one single controlling authority,” says [the Carnegie Endowment’s Eugene] Rumer. “A ceasefire accepted by one faction doesn’t mean that other factions will accept it.” The separatists already refused to cooperate with the creation of civilian corridors for the evacuation of civilians, despite the fact that both Russia and Ukraine endorsed the effort. There’s no reason to think they’ll agree this time around—unless, as the Ukrainian government hopes, they are forced to.
Peace can’t come soon enough, as the rebels are getting more and more deeply entrenched. Alec Luhn profiles the “emerging warlords” of eastern Ukraine, whose ultimate loyalties remain unclear:
When pro-Russian protesters first occupied the Donetsk regional administration building in April, different rebel groups and units staked out each of the 11 floors. Since then, these motley bands have been eclipsed by three powerful, armed factions: the Russian Orthodox Army, the Vostok Battalion, and Oplot. Each is built around an influential commander who spends his time not only waging the ongoing guerrilla war against Kiev’s forces, but also dispensing harsh justice and detaining civilians, sometimes for prisoner exchanges. Each group has several hundred men, including Russian volunteers, and heavy armaments. (During a recent visit to Vostok’s base, I saw four fighting vehicles, two anti-aircraft guns, numerous rocket-propelled grenades, and surface-to-air missiles.)
Are these commanders the backbone of an emerging independent East Ukraine, or are they burgeoning warlords staking out their turf for whatever comes next?