Putin's bluff or approaching war? What Kremlin wants from Zelenskyi in Donbas
The "golden" period of ceasefire in Donbas lasted about six months. For Volodymyr Zelenskyi and the Office of the President, this became one of the main positive cases which they tried to emphasize in every possible way; the President was right to devote so much time to this topic in his New Year's address.
However, starting from the end of January, this fragile house of cards quickly collapsed. Now there are daily shellings in Donbas, the number of Armed Forces fighters killed since the beginning of the year is estimated at dozens, and military convoy and soldiers are gathering on the border between Ukraine and Russia.
On April 14, the OSCE Permanent Council convened an online meeting to discuss the situation in Donbas. However, Russia not only didn't send its representatives but also initiated a mini-scandal. Find out in the Rubryka article whether you need to fear the beginning of the escalation, whether Ukraine can count on the help of NATO, and what our authorities think about it.
"We won't cast pearls before…" Russia dissing in OSCE
On Wednesday morning, April 14, the OSCE Permanent Council met to discuss Russia's military strength increasing on the border with Ukraine. However, a few days earlier, it became known that the Kremlin wouldn't send its representatives there.
"Russia won't take part in the meeting, which contradicts the Vienna Document, stating that it must cooperate in good faith on such issues," Radio Svoboda correspondent Ricard Jozwiak stated.
In the meantime, a few days earlier, the OSCE published a report stating that in just three days since the beginning of April, more than 1,000 ceasefire violations had been recorded. The most acute situation was observed on April 3, but further news about the deceased and wounded soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine was regularly received from the front.
"We see that now history has returned to about the same level as it was in the first year of Zelenskyi's presidency and back in the days of Petro Poroshenko. So far, there are no such escalations, as it was at the time in Svitlodarsk, but I don't rule out that it's a matter of time. There's no panic among former fighters of volunteer battalions: should there be a war, we'll gather and go to the front again," the veteran of anti-terrorist operation Andrii Chemerys told Rubryka.
Russia not only doesn't want to make concessions but also makes frankly bold statements to the OSCE. Thus, the Permanent Representative of Ukraine in Vienna to international organizations Yevhen Tsymbaliuk published a screenshot of the correspondence in ZOOM, through which meetings are held in the OSCE. It's clear from the correspondence that Tsymbaliuk initiated the meeting, in which the US representative also confirmed her participation.
In response, the adviser to the Russian mission Yulia Zhdanova wrote that the head of the Russian delegation Gavrilov "isn't going to cast pearls before…"
"This is all you need to know about Russian diplomacy in the OSCE," Tsymbaliuk commented on the photo.
Indeed, everything, if you think that the Russian representative actually called her colleagues from Ukraine and the United States swine.
"We won't see great war. But it may be small"
Donetsk's direction in Donbas has always been considered more difficult than others. Memorable events of January 2017, when DNR militants tried to knock Ukrainian soldiers out of the industrial zone in the suburbs of Avdiivka, resulted in dozens of victims on each side.
Now the fighting is on a smaller scale, but the flashpoint areas remain the same: Popasna, Zolote, the Avdiivka-Yasynuvata-Donetsk airport triangle, Svitlodarsk arch areas, and the outskirts of Horlivka, where a Ukrainian fighter was recently killed by a sniper bullet.
The Ukrainian authorities also say that the conflict has entered a new stage. "There's no peace process anymore; sniper teams are acting, shelling is happening, the war is going on," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said.
In fact, the combat activity is permanent, but at any moment, it can escalate into a larger conflict. Besides, the opposite side is actively preparing a public opinion about Ukraine starting hostilities — every day the media controlled by the occupants and their Russian "brothers" spread messages that Kyiv is training for the offensive. Since the beginning of the year, they named several "key dates" when the offensive could be launched, but all of them, oddly enough, weren't fulfilled.
What is the Ukrainian government preparing for? Rubryka's source, familiar with the mood in the Cabinet, says that they don't believe in the Great War beginning although they're ready for a serious conflict escalation.
"We won't see great war. But it can be small," a source stated in an interview with the publication.
Ukraine won't become a NATO member, but rapprochement will continue
The escalation in Donbas was a reason to raise the issue of Ukraine's accession to NATO once again. Recently, Volodymyr Zelenskyi has been pushing so hard on this issue; it will just suffice to mention his rather aggressive message to US President Joe Biden during a recent trip to eastern Ukraine.
"If the United States sees Ukraine in NATO, they must say it directly and do something. Not in words," he told CNN.
It's unknown whether Biden heard Zelenskyi, but communication with NATO is indeed much more active: as evidenced by a recent call to the Ukrainian President from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
The United States is also not against Ukraine's accession to NATO, although they say, this issue is within the competence of the Alliance's leadership, but in fact, the key position on this issue is Russia's position, and the aggressor vaguely hints that in this case, there may be a terrible escalation in Donbas.
"We deeply doubt that it will help Ukraine cope with its internal problem; if you ask the opinion of several million people in the self-proclaimed republics, you'll understand that NATO membership is deeply unacceptable for these people," Volodymyr Putin's spokesperson Dmitriy Peskov said.
It's obvious that Ukraine won't be able to gain membership in the Alliance soon, but now it's enough that NATO will offer the country a map for accession. It would be an enormous success for all domestic diplomacy. The same is said at the top of the Ukrainian government.
"Ukraine has no illusions that someone else will fight for us. At the same time, a clear path to NATO membership will be a key factor in transforming the post-Soviet space into a secure, democratic one. In light of Ukraine's institutional and political transformation, it is time for NATO leaders to begin consultations to pave the way for membership, as they promised in 2008," Olha Stefanyshyna, Deputy Prime Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration, stressed.
The question is what Russia is really trying to achieve by increasing its military presence and dispelling hysteria in the media. There can be several reasons for this.
First, next autumn Ukraine's neighbors will hold regular elections to the State Duma; meanwhile, the United Russia party's ratings are at a record low level: according to a Levada Center poll, only 27% of the electorate support them.
As we know, the rise of patriotism before voting and calls to "come together" in the face of external threats are the Kremlin's favorite methods of scoring before the election. The question is how far Putin is willing to go this time.
In fact, he has everything to "include" the occupied Donbas in Russia, as it was with Crimea in 2014. The new Constitution of the Russian Federation gives the president such powers, and on the ORDLO territory, Russian passports have been distributed for more than a year. It remains to organize a good reason, but the Kremlin has never had any problems with this.
Will Russia go for it? In fact, no one knows the answer to this question, but we cannot rule out such a possibility. Besides, frankly, Ukraine won't be able to prevent this, and Europe is unlikely to take any radical action. So now Putin is restrained only by the threat of new sanctions and the tough stance of US President Joe Biden. Will that be enough? One can only guess and use this situation to bring Ukraine as close as possible to NATO.