A muted White House isn’t just emboldening the Kremlin — it’s inciting the politics of war throughout Ukraine.
EV, Ukraine — Less than two weeks after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, full-blown war returned to eastern Ukraine.
Beginning Jan. 29, rockets rained down on residential and military positions along the front line, killing civilians and soldiers alike. One 60-year-old woman was killed in separatist shelling as she walked from her home to a nearby market; a 24-year-old medic was killed when a shell exploded next to the ambulance she was driving. The fighting decimated local water and electricity infrastructure, spawning a renewed humanitarian crisis in the region that could affect hundreds of thousands of people as temperatures dip below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
It stands to reason that the return to fighting in eastern Ukraine bears some relationship to the political event that preceded it by nine days — the inauguration of Trump as U.S. president. But the influence of Trump’s election on the calculus of war and peace in Donbass cuts both ways. It’s not just Russian aggression that the Trump presidency has stirred up, analysts say. Kiev, too, has become less inclined to compromise as it has grown more uncertain about Washington’s policy toward the conflict.
Until this past week, large-scale fighting had for the most part died down in Donbass since the signing of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement in February 2015. Front-line areas still saw exchanges between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, but nothing that resembled a significant battle.
That changed on Jan. 29, when fighting broke out in the town of Avdiivka. Nearly two dozen civilians and soldiers have died, and many more have been injured in what the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) describes as the heaviest shelling it has recorded since the war began in 2014. Now, one week on, Ukrainian forces have solidified their defenses and moved forward the sort of heavy weaponry, including battle tanks, that was supposed to be removed from the front lines as part of the Minsk II Agreement.
Kiev has pointed the finger at Russia as the culprit for the recent outbreak of fighting, and there is some evidence to support its case. Three days before the fighting erupted, Olexander Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, warned of a Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Rostov region; the next day, Russia alerted the OSCE’s Permanent Council about the increased risk of an escalation of the conflict in Donbass. Still, unlike in previous large-scale confrontations, there’s no evidence that regular Russian troops are involved in the current fighting…
(Cont) FOREIGN POLICY