The Next Phase Of The Ukrainian Conflict

Serhiy Kudelia expects that, if Ukrainian “insurgents are pushed out of big cities, the ongoing asymmetric warfare in Donbas that will be fought largely by conventional means is likely to take the form of an underground guerrilla movement”:

Similar to the PKK in Turkey, ETA in Spain or the IRA in the Northern Ireland, it will rely on sporadic attacks on government and military installations to exhaust the incumbent and damage its governing capacity rather than establish control over a territory. And like Hezbollah in Lebanon or FARC in Colombia, it will rely on outside powers for provision of arms, funds and training. In its new form, guerrilla attacks will likely spill over to other Ukrainian regions, particularly Western Ukraine. According to the latest poll, most Donbas residents (39%) blame radical nationalist organizations for the ongoing conflict, with Western intelligence services being close second (34%).

The path to solving the current conflict in Donbas goes not only through Brussels or Washington, but also through Moscow.

While Russia has become an active participant in the conflict, it is also the only actor with real leverage over the insurgents. By denying them sanctuaries on its territory and ending arms supplies, it will effectively cut their main lifeline. However, the Kremlin will not acquiesce to an outcome that ignores what it views as its legitimate interests in the region with a large ethnic Russian presence. While Russia’s immediate commitment to peace is doubtful, the prospect of a protracted conflict on its border, growing international isolation and risks of regional war is also hardly appealing for Putin. All the sides – Ukraine, Russia and the West – should in principle be interested in finding a sustainable resolution to the conflict. One thing that prevents them from negotiating in earnest now is the belief that their interests will be better served by continued fighting. However, as the recent study of war duration shows, irregular wars last much longer than conventional or symmetric non-conventional wars (113.32 months on average). So if guerrilla war begins there may not be an end to violence in sight.