Ukraine poised for serious escalation of violence as ceasefire expires

By bne IntelliNews July 1, 2014



Violence in Ukraine could dramatically escalate July 1 after the ceasefire expired and new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko refused to extend it. 

Poroshenko said on July 1 that government forces would renew offensive operations against pro-Russian rebels and "free our lands", hours after a ceasefire to make way for peace talks with the rebels had expired.

"We will attack and free our lands. The decision not to continue the ceasefire is our answer to terrorists, militants and marauders," Poroshenko told the nation in a televised statement delivered in front of the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag.

"The unique chance to implement the peace plan was not realized. It happened because of the criminal actions of the militants. They publicly declared their unwillingness to support the peace plan as a whole, and in particular the ceasefire," Poroshenko continued. 

The decision comes hours after a four-way telephone call between Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande failed to find a compromise. 

"Very significant new development in the Ukraine crisis, as President Poroshenko refuses to further extend the ceasefire, and expectations now are that a further and very large scale Ukrainian military assault on rebel forces will be forthcoming over the next few hours," Tim Ash of Standard Bank said in a note. 

Reports emerged late on June 30 that significant amounts of men and materiel were being moved up towards rebel positions in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian army appears poised for an all-out assault on the last rebel strongholds, should the order be given.

"Presumably Poroshenko was not convinced that President Putin was being sincere in efforts towards peace, and also did not view Western efforts/threats of further sanctions on Russia as being serious enough to counter Russian support of proxy forces in Donetsk and Luhansk. Kyiv seemingly has decided to take matters into its own hands and try and retake the initiative in the SE of Ukraine," said Ash. "This will be a key test for the Ukrainian armed forces, and the first real test of the Poroshenko presidency."

Ash believes the crisis could move to a "new phase." Russia has kept forces massed on or near the border with Ukraine (despite publicly promising to move them back), and a serious escalation could give Russia the pretext to "help" its nationals - and/or the now famous "Russian speakers" - by formally launching a military invasion of the region. An overt Russian military operation in Ukraine would obviously lead back to talks of tougher sanctions. The US administration has already dug its heels in over the issue after the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the US would support "either option" that Poroshenko decides on, be it a military escalation or extending the ceasefire. 

Despite the ceasefire announced 10 days ago, fighting has continued. Pro-Russian rebels shot down a helicopter and killing nine on June 24 and just on June 29 killed a further three Ukrainian soldiers. Civilians are trapped in the firing lines. More mortar attacks were reported in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, where residents called on both sides in desperation for an end to the violence. More than 100,000 refugees have fled the eastern regions, mostly for Russia or the Crimea, in what is a growing humanitarian crisis. Multiple reports of shelling and rocket attacks on civilian areas have lead to a mounting death toll of non-combatants. Everyone who could flee the war-torn region has gone, leaving mostly the old and infirm, according to the RFE/RL report.

Some efforts to de-escalate the situation have been made. On June 25 Russia rescinded Putin's power to use military force in Ukraine, which was followed two days later by Poroshenko's unilateral ceasefire to give combatants a space to withdraw if they wanted. Ironically, both sides have been calling for an extension to the ceasefire, but the mood in Kyiv is turning increasingly ugly with a large demonstration on Maidan at the weekend calling on Poroshenko to heighten the military assault and crush the rebels. Another large demonstration with the same message is planned for midday July 1. 


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