In what can be best described as an up and down battle since the ceasefire deal between Russia and Ukraine was negotiated in September, pro-Russian separatists violated this week’s “day of silence” that was agreed upon as a step towards a renewed, and durable, peace agreement.
The day began with Russia resuming gas shipments to Ukraine after a six-month break in supply, a positive sign that it may be possible to normalize relations, at least to some degree, between the two countries.
However, according to reports, the Ukrainian government conveyed that there had been violations of the “day of silence” agreement.
“Not having any idea of observing the agreements, the rebels employed light weapons, mortars and artillery, armored tanks in residential areas,” the press service for Kiev’s military operation in the east said on Facebook.
This isn’t the first time that the Ukrainians have attempted a day-long ceasefire with the Russian backed separatists. According to army chief of staff Viktor Muzhenko, “[Ukraine] has declared a Day of Silence three times in the past. This is the fourth time. One hundred and ninety-two people have been killed since September 5th.”
The 192 that have died since the original ceasefire was put in place brings the total to more than 4,300 dead, as well as displacing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. And, sadly, there are surely more that will perish as this struggle continues.
As I’ve argued before, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the crucial factor here. Without him and his desire to keep this conflict simmering at best and raging at worst, the separatists would be incapable of continuing on. They rely on Russian support for resources, including economic and military reinforcement, and also, importantly, for ideological support.
To this end, Putin’s State of the Nation speech last week showed that while Russia may be headed for even more troubled times – the government has warned that Russia will slip into recession next year – Putin is doubling down on his actions in Ukraine. He showed no remorse for annexing Crimea back in March, arguing that the territory has a “sacred meaning” for Russia. What’s more, he referred to the Ukrainian protests in Kiev last year and the eventual ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as an “illegal coup.”