The war between Russia and Ukraine in the Eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass has never ended. To our great regret, the West, all these years pretended to have forgotten about this war – giving Russian president Vladimir Putin a good reason to feel unpunished.
There is no doubt that this sense of impunity is one of the reasons for the dangerous aggravation of the situation in eastern Ukraine at a time when Putin's falling popularity in Russia and the growing internal crisis may push him to aggressive foreign policy steps to use this to strengthen his own popularity, as he did in 2014 by annexing the Ukrainian Crimea. Therefore, I am afraid Putin is preparing to do the same with Donbass as he did with Crimea seven years ago: wether by direct annexation or by recognition of “independence” of so-called DPR and LPR, like it was done earlier with Transnistria, Abkhazia, or South Ossetia.
Why is Putin concentrating the army on the borders of Ukraine?
Kremlin does not deny a strong military presence but assures that it is not a threat. However, it insists that his troops remain as long as it saw fit. Moreover, President Vladimir Putin, in turn, accuses Ukraine of being the source of "dangerous provocative actions." The Kremlin said that Kyiv allegedly refused to fulfil its obligations under the Minsk agreements to solve the issue of Donbass.
Moscow is stepping up the transfer of troops to Crimea and to the Russian-Ukrainian border near the territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
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President Volodymyr Zelensky said 20 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 57 wounded since the beginning of the year, while Kyiv has reported the deaths of 50 soldiers in 2020.
The Kremlin's belligerent rhetoric is escalating, and the situation is raising fears: the unstable balance of international security could collapse.
Is Russia going to content with a simple "bending of muscles" show once again, or is it preparing for a new hostile action in the same manner that it did almost seven years after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of conflict in eastern Ukraine?
"Mother Russia, bring Donbass home." This call by the director of the Kremlin-backed Russia Today television channel, controversial propagandist Margarita Simonyan, became the main event of the Russian Donbass forum, which took place on January 28 in the eastern part of occupied Ukraine and marked the beginning of a new escalation of the seven-year hybrid war of the Putin regime against Ukraine.
After a record ceasefire in the second half of 2020 during the war in eastern Ukraine. Simultaneously with this forum, the number of clashes along the entire line of contact between pro-Russian proxies and the Ukrainian army has increased since January. Although both sides blame each other for the escalation of the conflict, the connection between the two events is striking.
Moreover, even though Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the calls for the annexation of the Ukrainian Donbass made during the forum did not reflect the Kremlin's official position, there is no doubt that Margarita Simonyan, who has long served as Putin's personal "Goebbels", never will not make loud statements without the consent of its curators in the Administration. And this means that she was instructed at the very top to voice calls for the "annexation" of Donbass. Subsequent events only confirm this version. Dmitry Kozak, who oversees the "Ukrainian problems" in the Presidential Administration, said that Russia may be forced to protect the citizens of Donbass, citing the protection of the population, to whom more than 600,000 Russian passports have been issued.
It would be a great propaganda trick for Putin to announce the annexation (or recognition of independency) of Donbass during his 21 April presidential address to the Federal Assembly, which is an almost the same date on the annual celebration of the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The intentions of the Kremlin leader can be indirectly confirmed by the fact that the Federation Council is to meet in the next few days after the address, which could give the annexation of Donbass the disguise of legality. The "successful" annexation of Donbas will undoubtedly be used for propaganda aimed at the regime's nuclear electorate in preparation for the September 2021 parliamentary elections.
The movement of Russian troops and the threat of escalation can also be used in actions parallel to the annexation of Donbass, as a lever in negotiations with the West after the annexation of Donbass.
I am sure that Putin expects that the only reaction of the collective west will be the habitual deep concerns. Hope that this time he is about to be disappointed.
This article is written by a member of the Voxeurop community. It has been reviewed by the Editorial Board, but does not necessarily reflect the views of Voxeurop.
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