by Brad Cabana
The war in Ukraine is entering its third year. Officially it was meant to end with the Minsk Two agreement, but unofficially it’s heating up if anything. In the first two months of 2016 thirty Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action and over one hundred wounded. That is the official tally. Unofficially, as were the numbers of casualties before Minsk, casualties may be much higher.
This week alone the Ukrainian army evacuated most of the civilian population of Marinka – a small community on the southern outskirts of the rebel capital near the Donetsk international airport. The reason: the Ukrainian army contends rebel sniper fire and artillery is placing the civilians at risk. The Donetsk republic, conversely, alleges the Ukrainian army is preparing for a military offensive there. So it goes between the two sides where white is black and black is white.
Since Minsk the Ukrainian government has slowly, but surely swallowed pieces of territory in small bites between the two forces. In what can only be viewed as modern day trench warfare, Rebel and Ukraine army positions stretch all the way along the contact line with the Lugansk and Donetsk republics. The republics still refer to themselves as Novorossyia, or New Russia, but the reality is they continue to receive almost no political support or serious recognition from Russia itself. What they do receive is enough economic and military aid to keep them viable as independent republics.
Now Turkey has decided to enter the equation. Despite a NATO ban on supplying weapons systems to Ukraine, the Turkish military has informed its Ukrainian counterpart that Turkey is prepared to supply Ukraine with “all necessary” military equipment. That raises the stakes in the Ukraine conflict. The spirit of the Minsk Agreement was to disengage the two sides and not add any fuel to the fire. However, it appears Turkey has decided its national interest lies in escalating its conflict with Russia in Syria – a two front war. Perhaps the goal is to force Russia to withdraw some or all of its forces from the Syrian conflict, or perhaps it’s simply a strategy of revenge for Russia’s intervention in what Turkey considers its “backyard”. Whatever the case, Turkey has intervened against Russian interests, contrary to its responsibilities as a NATO member.
Whatever the reason may be for the Turkish escalation in the Ukraine conflict, it only serves to increase tensions internationally. Russia has always believed that the revolution in Ukraine was a product of Western interests. Specifically, the overthrow of a Russia-friendly government in Ukraine, during the Olympic Games of Sochi, was seen as an American chess move on the board of European body politic. Nothing has changed that view in Moscow, and the Turkish moves to militarily supply Ukraine with weapons only serves to reinforce that belief.
Time will tell how serious all parties are on whether or not a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine crisis is possible. After three years of war, tens of thousands of casualties and displaced persons, the likelihood of the republics of Lugansk and Donetsk rejoining Ukraine are dismal at best. The only question remaining is whether or not other’s national interests will turn Ukraine into a deeper proxy war than it may already be.