New tensions in eastern Ukraine alert US and EU

Escalating tension between Russia and the West as Russian troops strengthen near Ukraine's border
A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) aims a gun at fighting positions on the Ukrainian armed forces' disengagement line south of the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine 2 April 2021

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) aims a gun at fighting positions on the Ukrainian armed forces' disengagement line south of the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine 2 April 2021

Ukraine is mired in a war that, far from coming to an end, continues to strengthen in a new escalation of tension. The latest moves, led by Moscow, have led to the deployment of new Russian troops in a region just 100 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. Moreover, Ukraine has reinforced its troops in the east and near the Crimean peninsula, a territory annexed by Russia in 2014 prior to a referendum on Crimea's formal reintegration into Russia. 

These recent moves by Russia are evidence of a new pulse of tensions between the extent of EU and US support for Ukraine and between Moscow. However, the Kremlin has denied any preparations for an armed attack on Ukraine, but has reiterated it is free to move its troops across Russian territory in order to preserve the peace and security of its inhabitants. In this vein, the Russian president's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has affirmed that "Russia does not pose a threat to any country in the world". On the other hand, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that a hardening of the conflict in the Donbas region could "destroy" Ukraine. Lavrov added that any false move by Ukrainian troops in the Donbas region would lead to a "hot conflict". 

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky has thus accused Moscow of increasing its military presence on the border and creating a 'threatening atmosphere' in this part of the country, especially on the disputed Crimean peninsula.

El presidente ucraniano Zelensky
AFP/SERGEY DOLZHENKO - Ukrainian president Zelensky

This increased pressure has worried NATO and especially Ukraine's ally, the United States. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported on social media that they will continue to "support Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea". These tensions have also spilled over the borders of the European Union, which has expressed its concern that the presence of Russian armed forces in these territories is a "violation of international humanitarian law". Since the annexation of Crimea to Russia, neither the United States nor the EU itself has recognised the territory's integration, considering it illegal. 

Alongside this, UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262, passed on 27 March 2014, ruled on the UN's commitment to recognise Crimea as part of Ukraine, thus rejecting the referendum on the political status of the area. Eleven countries voted against the resolution, including Russia, Iran, North Korea and Syria, while 100 countries voted in favour. 

Un militar ucraniano mantiene su posición en la línea del frente con los separatistas apoyados por Rusia, cerca de Avdiivka, región de Donetsk, el 5 de abril de 2021
PHOTO/AFP - A Ukrainian serviceman holds his position on the frontline with Russian-backed separatists near Avdiivka, Donetsk region, 5 April 2021.

These tensions have been heightened by the death of four Ukrainian military personnel on March 26 during a demining mission in a conflict zone in the Donetsk region. Despite the ceasefire issued in 2015, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has recorded more than 250 violations of the ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Moreover, since January 2021, 19 Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed on the border.

Eastern Ukraine is a geostrategic enclave for both NATO and the EU in relations with Russia. The new escalation has come amid serious tensions between Moscow and the West over the case of opposition figure Alexi Nalvany after he was poisoned with Novichok, an attack allegedly linked to the Kremlin. Moreover, Biden's latest accusations against Putin, publicly calling him a " killer", strained relations with Moscow, to which the Russian president responded to Biden's accusations with a terse "wish you good health".

Militares ucranianos patrullan a lo largo de una posición en la línea del frente con los separatistas respaldados por Rusia en Avdiivka, región de Donetsk el 5 de abril de 2021
PHOTO/AFP - Ukrainian servicemen patrol along a frontline position with Russian-backed separatists in Avdiivka, Donetsk region on April 5, 2021.

On the other hand, both Ukraine and Russia continue to hurl accusations at each other that seem to move away from the goal of ending military exercises and offensives. According to various sources, Russia is conducting military training in the Southern Military District and participated in the Zapad 2021 strategic military drill last September. On the other hand, Ukraine is reportedly conducting Cossack-Mace drills together with five NATO member states. More than 1,000 military personnel as well as participants of the Partnership for Peace programme took part in the Ukrainian exercises.

According to the UN, the outbreak of the conflict since the annexation of the territory of Crimea has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people. In addition, up to 104,000 children are in need of school support and 35,000 of these need psychological help. In addition, the difficulty of access to the region due to the closure of border crossing points hinders the arrival of humanitarian and development aid, which worsens the living conditions of the civilian population.

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin asiste a los ejercicios conjuntos de las flotas del mar del Norte y del mar Negro a bordo del crucero ruso de misiles guiados Marshal Ustinov en el puerto del mar Negro de Sebastopol, Crimea 9 de enero de 2020
PHOTO/KREMLIN - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends joint exercises of the North Sea and Black Sea fleets aboard the Russian guided missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea 9 January 2020.

The multiple 'ceasefires' agreed between Russia and Ukraine have been significantly violated after continued offensives between the two sides. Russia's occupation of Crimea remains a development that is strongly opposed internationally by major powers, including the European Union and the United States. On the other hand, the new relations between Russia and the US continue to be strained between these two superpowers, which continue to arm wrestle for control of a new zone of influence. After seven years of conflict and despite the agreements reached, such as the Minsk agreements, the conflict in eastern Ukraine, also known as the Donbas war, continues to move further away from achieving peace in an escalating conflict that continues to force tensions between Ukraine and Russia, thus affecting the international movements of the rest of the world's powers.