The exclusion of parts of Donbas from the presidential elections prompted the Russian government to consider easing the provision of Russian passports to residents of DPR and LPR, and toward that end, published three Decrees between April and July 2019, calling them humanitarian and practical measures which did not violate the Minks Agreements.
The European Council considered this “passportisation” of the Donbas by Russia a contravention of the Minsk Agreements, and the EU Commission issued a guidance for member states to reject such passports. Nevertheless, naturalizations increased about 85 percent to 497,817, and the proportion of Ukrainian applicants for Russian passports almost doubled to 60 percent, between 2018 and 2019.
In October 20019, Russia, Ukraine, DPR, LPR, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) signed the “Steinmeier Formula” which envisaged free elections in the LPR and DPR, followed by their integration, with a special status, into Ukraine. Following the signing of the Steinmeier Formula, Ukraine and separatist withdrew their troops, and Russia exchanged prisoners with Ukraine. In addition, presidents Putin and Zelenskyy, French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel resumed the Normandy Format peace talks in December, 2019.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened living conditions in the conflict zone, and by March 2020, fighting escalated. The 29th ceasefire since the war started in 2014 came into in July 2020, and this largely held until November 2020.
2021 got off to a bad start, with 25 Ukrainian soldiers killed in the conflict zone, compared to 50 soldiers being killed in 2020. Tensions increased around early April after Russia moved thousands of military personnel as well as large quantities of arms and materiel into Crimea and its border with Ukraine. The UK and EU expressed their concern about Russia’s military buildup and promised their “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
On their part, Russia said some of its troops were deployed to practice fighting enemy drones and that the military movements posed no threat to Ukraine. However, a Russian official added that an escalation of the conflict in Donbas would mean the “the beginning of the end of Ukraine.” Chancellor Merkel asked Putin to reduce the Russian troop buildup, while US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his German counterpart emphasized the importance of supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s provocations.
Tensions increased in April 2021 when Ukraine flew its Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 military drones over Donbas for the first time. A week later, President Putin warned that any country which takes Russia’s good intentions for weakness or indifference, and crosses its red lines should know that Russia’s response will be “asymmetrical, swift and harsh.”
In early October 2021, eight members of the Russian mission to NATO were expelled because they were “undeclared Russian intelligence officers.” Russia accused NATO of duplicity, and in retaliation, closed its mission to NATO, which it declared was “not interested in equitable dialogue and joint work.”
On October 19, 2021, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Kyiv that Russia was an “obstacle to a peaceful resolution” of the conflict in Ukraine. In clear reference to Russia, he added that “no third country” could veto NATO’s membership decisions. Secretary Austin also discussed with Ukrainian authorities the implementation of the US-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework which underlines US support for Ukraine’s right to decide its own foreign policy, its desire to join NATO, as reaffirmed in the June 2021 NATO Summit Communique.
Secretary Austin’s remarks in Kyiv were criticized for reflecting US policy makers’ failure to accept geopolitical realities in eastern Europe, and risking drawing the US and NATO into a war with Russia. Furthermore, his remarks were said to encourage Ukraine to take a hardline against Russia, instead of accommodating Russia’s interests.
A few days after Secretary Austin’s statement in Kyiv, Ukraine destroyed a separatist artillery gun manned by “Russian occupation forces” in the Donbas using, for the first time, a Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone. Although Ukraine claimed that the drone did not cross the Contact Line, the 427-Km long frontline between the government and non-government-controlled areas in Donbas, the LPR said the drone attack was in violation of the Minsk Agreements. Germany’s Foreign Office expressed its concern about the drone strike, while a Russian government spokesman said the drone attack was destabilizing and would not help settle the conflict.
In a November 2021 speech, President Putin said that Russia’s Western partners were aggravating the situation in Ukraine by supplying the Ukrainian government with lethal weapons and conducting military exercises in the Black Sea and other regions close to Russia. In addition, Putin said, their partners ignored Russia’s warnings about its “red lines,” including NATO’s expansion eastward toward Russia.
In December 2021, President Putin said that Russia wants to negotiate agreements with the US and its allies to stop NATO from deploying weapons near Russian territory, and expanding eastwards. A few days later, Ukraine claimed that Russia was sending tanks and snipers to the conflict areas.
By mid-December, Russia published draft US-Russia and NATO-Russia agreements to guarantee it’s security, and defuse the tension in Ukraine. The US government said some parts of the proposals were “unacceptable” while others saw them as a ploy by Russia to justify an invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia had a massive buildup of over 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, in readiness for what many called another invasion of Ukraine.
Fighting escalated in February 2022, with the Ukrainian military reporting 60 incidents of weapons fire in one day, and about 135,000 Russian troops on the Russia-Ukraine border. On February 15, 2022, the Russian State Duma (lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia) passed a non-binding resolution asking President Putin to recognize the DPR and LPR.
A few days later, the DPR and LPR leaders requested President Putin to recognize the independence of their republics and proposed signing a treaty of friendship and cooperation (including military cooperation) with Russia. Putin signed the State Duma resolution recognizing the republics, along with their treaties on “friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance” with Russia.
In his address to Russia following his recognition of the breakaway republics, President Putin said that Ukraine was created by Russia, and never was a genuine state. He also said that although many European allies of the US knew of the risks of admitting Ukraine into NATO, the US forced them to carry out its anti-Russia policy. Putin concluded by saying that those in power in Kyiv should immediately cease hostilities or their conscience will be burdened by bloodshed from the conflict.
On February 21, 2022, President Putin ordered more Russian troops into Donbas for a “peacekeeping mission,” which the US called an invasion. Putin raised the ante on February 24, 2022 when he announced the start of a “special military operation” in the Donbas. The much-anticipated full-scale invasion of Russia by Ukraine was on.
The global reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came thick and fast, with President Biden condemning it, but adding that US will not send its troops to Ukraine to fight Russian forces. The US also provided $4.6 billion in security assistance, and $914 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began, and announced an additional $700 million in funding on June 1.
NATO Heads of State and Government condemned the Russian invasion, calling it “brutal,” “wholly unprovoked,” and “unjustified.” They also said that Russia had rejected the path of diplomacy and dialog offered by NATO and its Allies and violated international law. They vowed to continue supporting Ukraine and reaffirmed their support for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
For its part, the EU imposed restrictive measures on Russia to weaken its ability to finance its war on Ukraine. Thus, it imposed many sanctions against Russia starting in March 2014 following the referendum on Crimea’s accession to Russia. More rounds of sanctions followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and by early June 2022, the EU had sanctioned 1,175 Russian individuals (including President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov), 101 Russian entities, and imposed its sixth package of sanctions against Russia. In addition, the EU has extended every six months, economic sanctions it imposed on Russia in 2014, and covering the finance, energy, defense and other sectors.
On the diplomatic front, the EU cancelled the 2014 EU-Russia summit, and ended the privileged access of Russian diplomats, officials and business executives to the EU. The EU also provided humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine, including €355 million to help civilians affected by Russia’s invasion of the country.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, who advocated for dialog with Russia, became a belligerent leader of Ukraine’s fierce resistance against Russia. Since the start of Russia’s invasion, Zelenskyy has addressed Ukrainians nightly, rallying them to fight, using his oratory and communications skills. Zelenskyy has also, via video link, addressed Heads of State, parliaments, and conferences around the world pleading, with little success, for more support (especially military support) for Ukraine.
President Zelenskyy has pleaded numerous times for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and provide them more lethal weapons to fight Russia. Unfortunately for Ukraine, his appeals have fallen on deaf ears because NATO said it won’t risk a direct confrontation with Russia. Zelenskyy should have seen this coming, because he admitted in March 2022 that NATO had categorically told him that while they will maintain in public that NATO is open to Ukraine joining the organization, the reality was that it won’t.
The war in Ukraine seems to have no end in sight because both President Biden, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at the June 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Spain that NATO will continue to provide Ukraine with weapons as long as necessary. Furthermore, the US has been absent from efforts to bring peace to Ukraine – if not outrightly opposed to them. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov also accused the US and its NATO allies of pouring oil on the fire in Ukraine by arming it, and increasing the risk of nuclear war.
For its part, the US said that one of its goals in the war in Ukraine was to “see Russia weakened” so it won’t be able to conduct similar invasions in the future. Although President Biden asked his officials to tone down their position, Russians will remember former President Gorbachev’s advice that the only Russia the US loves is a weak Russia.
Ukraine clearly is a proxy in the US and NATO war on Russia. What matters therefore, is not peace and security for Ukrainians, but the desire of the US (9,181 Km or 5,705 miles from Ukraine) and NATO to bring Russia to her knees. As such, a negotiated peace between Ukraine and Russia is far off, and this pathetic, needless war which has killed thousands and made millions refugees will drag on. Poor Ukraine, so far away from the United States, and so close to Russia!