Battered by superior Russian firepower, the Ukrainian government signed a ceasefire with the pro-Russian separatists on 5 September.
Only a fortnight before the Ukrainian military hemmed separatists into three small enclaves, albeit at the cost of thousands of fatalities.
But then Russia jacked up the military backing it had given to the separatists from day one. Three offensives were launched from Russian territory, Russian troops took part in those offensives, and yet more Russian military hardware was handed over to the separatists.
Ukraine’s military was no match for what was effectively a Russian invasion.
On both sides there are strong factions who regard the ceasefire as no more than a breathing space before new war.
Some hardliners in Russia and the “People’s Republics” want a “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”) covering much of Ukraine, even stretching to Romania, reducing Ukraine to a small rump.
Last weekend leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s Republics” announced that they would be demanding full independence, not specifying for which territory, at the next round of talks. If there was no agreement on that, they said, the ceasefire would be called off.
On the Ukrainian side far-right factions rail at “betrayal”.
Russian president Putin and Ukrainian president Poroshenko are both under pressure from pro-war factions.
One of Putin’s key goals was to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Until a few months ago, that was a very distant prospect. It is still distant, but the “common sense” view in Ukraine now is that military expenditure should be increased and Ukraine should join NATO.
Neighbouring countries which are already NATO member-states, such as Poland and the Baltic states, are calling for more support from NATO.
In the “People’s Republics” there is now what amounts to a Russian-backed military dictatorship.
Although the “People’s Republics” have their own “Supreme Soviets”, these are unelected bodies consisting of handpicked loyalists whose only function is to rubber stamp decisions made elsewhere. Real power lies with the military commanders.
As German academic Margarete Klein recently wrote:
“Putin’s long-term goal is clearly to exercise influence over all of Ukraine, ideally through the federalisation and neutrality of Ukraine. If he cannot achieve that, then he will go for controlled destabilisation. The problem is that the process cannot be controlled with 100% certainty.
“Right now it looks like Russia’s plan is the Transnistrian scenario, a “frozen conflict”. A de facto separation of parts of Ukraine but which are not annexed into Russia would ensure that Moscow can continue to exercise influence over Ukraine”. (Transnistria is a segment of neighbouring Moldova, nominally independent but actually Moscow-dominated).
“Russia could add weight to its core demands – neutrality and federalisation of Ukraine – through the permanent possibility of the threat of escalation. This explains why more and more highly placed figures from Transnistria have recently taken up leading positions in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.”