On Tuesday, December 9, 2014, Ukrainian military authorities said the state had suspended hostilities against Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in line with a truce declared a week before. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called for a “day of silence.” in hopes of reviving a cease fire agreed to in September. The President’s office announced a new round of peace talks, which was expected to start later this week in Minsk, Belarus involving the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Russian Federation. Despite high hopes for the new round, the talks did not start this week and it is unclear whether they will start at all in the near future. The concerned parties did not provide a reason for cancelling the meeting.
Since the “day of silence” was announced three days ago, three Ukrainian government soldiers were killed in the East, putting the already volatile ceasefire under further pressure. On several occasions, the rebels were reported to be attacking government forces on the frontline; the soldiers ignored the provocations while holding their positions at the highly contested Donetsk International Airport. According to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko, “Terrorists are violating agreements and continuing to fire on positions of the Ukrainian military and civilians.” He added that despite the aggression, government forces did not retaliate.
According to the United Nations,since the conflict began in April, 2014, more than 4,300 people have been killed and almost one million displaced.The Eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have been heavily shelled and largely destroyed, with fighting causing a severe humanitarian crisis and leading to high loss of civilian life. The first round of peace talks between the government of President Poroshenko and the leaders of the two breakaway regions was held in Minsk in early September, 2014 and led to the development of a 12-point blueprint for peace, including a ceasefire. Since then, both sides have accused each other of multiple violations.
At the same time, Russia has been accused by the West of heavy involvement in the conflict, specifically of supplying troops and weapons to the rebels. The country has denied any involvement in the conflict and has accused the West of exacerbating existing tensions. On Monday, December 8, 2014, Dutch F-16 fighters intercepted two Russian bombers over the Baltic Sea as part of their participation in NATO’s Baltic air policing mission.
The same day, Lithuania put its military on high alert after 22 Russian warships were spotted in the Baltic Sea. Overall, more than 30 Russian aircraft were intercepted in airspace over the Baltic Sea, extending as far as the coast of Norway. The total for this year stands at about 400 intercepted Russian military flights near NATO member-states’ airspace. All these instances serve to further alienate Russia from its Western neighbours.
Despite the unstable nature of the most recent ceasefire, the situation in eastern Ukraine seems to be somewhat stabilizing. There have been a reduced number of air strikes in the region and Russia has resumed gas supplies to Ukraine after months of negotiations over prices and delayed payments. Ukrainian company Ukrtransgaz stated that up to 43.5 cubic metres will be imported from Russia daily in order to prevent winter shortages; Ukraine has already paid Russian gas giant Gazprom $378 million in advance for December deliveries. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk noted in a speech to Parliament on Tuesday that Ukraine’s sovereignty hinged on achieving “independence in energy.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed support for the latest ceasefire in Ukraine. Speaking during French President Francois Hollande’s visit to Moscow on Saturday, December 6, 2014, Putin expressed hope for a final ceasefire agreement between government soldiers and the rebels in Ukraine in the near future. He also said that without a fully-imposed truce, it would be difficult for Ukraine to regain its territorial integrity. He added that, “Russia, as is well-known, supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine.