The Ukraine crisis, already about to enter the sixth month since its start – and the third month since its critical phase which started on February 21 with the killing of the 100 heroes in Maidan Square – has its flash points and moments of calm alike. A moment of calm for instance was the one that followed immediately after the Geneva agreement was reached on April 17, when it was believed, for a few hours, that it can be the start of a peaceful solution. The moment of calm lasted just a few hours, because it became obvious that eastern Ukraine, already unsettled by the actions of the pro-Russian separatists, will continue to be increasingly unstable. A fact that became clear last Thursday, April 24, when they arrested an OSCE team formed and accepted by the parties in line with the Geneva agreement in order to evaluate the situation on the ground and observe the implementation of the measures agreed.
The team has not been freed as we write this, which also represents a sign that the current crisis will continue to be hot in the near future.
On the other hand, this crisis also has its moments of maximum amplitude, when it becomes obvious that events with an overwhelming impact on the overall developments are in store. One of these moments took place at the end of last week, more precisely on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, namely on April 25-27. How did this moment stand out compared to other similar moments in the past (the announcement concerning the referendum in Crimea for instance, which took place on March 16, followed, as a complete surprise for the West, by the annexation of Ukraine’s peninsula to Russia, in contempt for international law) so as to be labeled “hot.” First of all, it has to be said that the current crisis in Ukraine has gotten its observers used to seeing surprising actions taking place during weekends. Secondly, Russia, more precisely the Kremlin led by Vladimir Putin, who has the legal mandate conferred by Russian legislative bodies to “protect” fellow Russian nationals in Ukraine, not only did not show signs of “deescalating” the tense situation as requested by the West and as was in line with the Geneva agreement, but amplified that tension to such levels as to threaten to invade eastern Ukraine.
Against the backdrop of the arrest of the OSCE team, believed to consist of NATO spies, and of the absence of Moscow’s efforts to exert pressures for their release, the situation had to be considered very tense. After all, it meant disregarding the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose founding member Russia is, with whose approval this team had traveled to eastern Ukraine. It was, after the annexation of Crimea, another clue of flagrant disregard for the principle on which this Euro-Atlantic organization is based, an organization that governs the relations between the states of this world region. That is why, ever since this OSCE team was arrested by the pro-Russian separatists, the high officials of regional states have talked about the fact that Russia’s goal is to change the territorial order in Eastern Europe. On Friday evening, well-known experts of the Euro-Atlantic area, as well as high officials – Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt among them – reached a common conclusion at a summit in Tallin. “I think that we all agreed – Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter on April 25 – that Russia now seeks to revise the post-Soviet order in the East of Europe.” Likewise, General Phillipe Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, stated that “Russia could overrun eastern Ukraine in three to five days.”
But the most important signs were those coming from Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out in a statement that the Ukrainian government will have to be held legally accountable for starting “the war against its own people,” an allusion to the anti-terrorist actions that Kiev started against the separatists. “This is a bloody crime and those who have sent in the army to do this will pay and will be deferred to justice.” At the same time, several members of Russia’s Upper House proposed on Wednesday, April 23, the deployment of peacekeepers in south-east Ukraine, destabilizing diversions having been already executed there (explosions which called for the placing of checkpoints in the Odessa region for instance).
The West’s reaction was prompt. American Secretary of State John Kerry stated on Thursday that Russia is making “a costly mistake” if it does not move to deescalate the situation. And on Friday night, while visiting South Korea as part of a tour that included four Asian states, US President B. Obama urgently got in touch with the G-7 leaders and issued a communiqué of this organization, announcing the switch to stage 3 of the sanctions against Russia, a stage that would affect the banking and economic sector. The establishment of these sanctions is currently ongoing.
The urgency of President Obama’s action can make us think of the fact that he has in his possession information concerning the imminent invasion of eastern Ukraine by Russian troops deployed on Ukraine’s borders and of the necessity to warn Russia not to go ahead with this action.
Why has the expected invasion not taken place? According to an assessment published on Monday, April 28, by The New York Times, “negatives seem to outweigh positives of an invasion.” Among these arguments “against” invasion, the daily lists the fact that at this stage Russia lacks the necessary troops with which to maintain an occupation – over 100,000 soldiers – the danger of a Ukrainian insurgency that would have demanded time and costs in order to be put down (if putting it down would have been possible in the end), the serious breakup of communication channels with the West which would have surely countered with drastic sanctions and the isolation of Moscow etc. An analyst also mentioned the fact that such an invasion would also have registered a risk to the Russian nation’s prosperity in the context of war and sanctions: “Putin will have to explain why he is risking war and sanctions and how he will improve the lot of seven million people here (in the occupied regions). How to do that and still maintain the standard of living of all Russians?”
So the invasion no longer took place. That does not mean that the destabilization of eastern Ukraine has stopped. The crisis continues, and the signs point to Russia seeking to prevent the presidential elections from taking place on May 25, so as to delegitimize their result and to attain its goals in Ukraine and possibly in view of changing the European and global order.