Russia and the Separatists in Eastern Ukraine



Despite repeated expressions of support for the Minsk process and recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty over the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR, LNR), Moscow’s policy in Ukraine’s east looks more likely to strengthen those entities than prepare for the dismantlement the Minsk agreement envisages. The Kremlin views Ukraine’s European choice as a major security threat and the 2014 overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych as Western-backed and aimed at isolating Russia. It wants to keep Ukraine under its pro-Western leadership unstable, embroiled in open-ended military confrontation it cannot afford, so as to return it eventually to its sphere of influence. Moscow often seems to play with several options, but its tactical fluidity is dangerous. Almost 10,000 have died in the conflict, and tens of thousands of troops face each other along a 500-km line of separation. While recognising the risk of the Minsk process becoming a substitute for settlement, the international community should urge Russia to show its commitment to that process and remind it that sanctions will remain until Minsk is fully implemented.

This briefing is part of Crisis Group’s work on conflicts in the European Eastern neighbourhood, where Russia and the EU compete for influence. Our publications provide the actors involved with in-depth analysis and policy ideas to move from stalled peace processes toward actual resolution of the standoffs in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno Karabakh and Donbas. 
For a general overview, please read a new commentary on “The Not-So-Frozen Conflicts on Russia’s Borders” by our Europe & Central Asia Program Director Magdalena Grono.