Civil War or International Interference?
While the Cold War may have ended more than three decades ago, the politics and strategies used by both sides are still prevalent in modern times. One of these strategies was the use of proxy wars, a influenced by a major power that does not become directly involved. Today, we see many examples of the former Cold War rivalries heat up again in these influenced conflicts between NATO and the Russian Federation. The resurgence of these ideological conflicts, in which Putinism and democracy are played against each other, has destabilized many regions, and created a four-year conflict on the doorstep of Russia. The frontline of this ideological conflict is now in the Donbass region of Ukraine that started in 2014 and continues to this day.
The War in Donbass began in March of 2014 after the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. The conflict, which started with pro-Russian protest, escalated into a civil war between the Ukrainian government and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR). Since the beginning of the confrontation, the DPR and LPR have tried to request annexation of the region to the Russian Federation. The DPR and LPR have not been allowed annexation based on their status as a rebel and terrorist organization. However, the flow of material support from Russia to include weapons, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and military forces has escalated the conflict on brought international attention to the situation in the region. The U.S. has been giving Ukraine non lethal humanitarian support for some time. Following the 2016 election of President Trump, “The Trump administration, in a timely departure from the Obama administration's refusal to grant Ukraine lethal weapons with which to defend its territory, approved the sale of defensive weapons – 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launchers worth $47 million –in December 2017” (Bergman 2018). The sale was made official in March of 2017. However, the flow of material support has become the least concerning issue in the conflict.
As the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has escalated, many nations have come to the aid of Ukraine, calling the support of the DPR and LPR by Russia a criminal activity. This has led to an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as to whether the current state of conflict in Eastern Ukraine (Donbass region) classifies as an international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Following its preliminary investigation, the ICC stated that, “during April and May 2014 anti-government demonstrators seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine and thwarted government efforts to regain control. The situation deteriorated rapidly into mass violence, and the Ukrainian government deployed its armed forces against the “militias” of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The intensity of hostilities increased in April and July 2014 with artillery shelling, shooting down Ukrainian helicopters and transport planes, a fierce battle for Donetsk airport, and the downing of MH17 by a missile launched by anti-government forces on July 17, 2014. Two periods of particularly intense battles in late August 2014 and from January to February 2015 have been attributed to alleged influxes of troops, vehicles, and weaponry from the Russian Federation…Information points to a direct military engagement between Russian and Ukraine that supports the existence of an international armed conflict [my italics] in eastern Ukraine” (Gregory 2016). Following the release of the preliminary investigation, the Russian Federation withdrew from the ICC, which left the question of whether Ukraine should consider the war in Donbass as a war with separatist or a war with the Russian Federation.
April 2018 marked the fourth year of the war in Donbass, and following a Ukrainian bill, “which described the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as “temporarily occupied” by Russia, and classified Russia as an “aggressor country,” (Bergman 2018) the conflict still sees no end in sight. According to a Royal United Services Institute report, “a total of 42,000 Russian troops from 117 combat and combat-support units have been involved, either being rotated in and out of the front lines in Ukraine or pouring artillery fire from inside Russia” (Borger 2015). With the recent announcement of the switch from anti-terrorist operations to joint forces operations, we see that the Ukrainian government is no longer viewing the DPR and LPR as separatist organizations, but as state actors who are not only being supported by the Russian Federation, but are illegally holding onto sovereign Ukrainian land.
Bergman, Judith. 2018. Ukraine: Is Russia Planning A New Invasion? May 1. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/12228/ukraine-russia-invasion.
Borger, Julian. 2015. Russian military shelled Ukraine from mid-July, report says. March 11. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/11/russia-struggling-ukraine-military-operations-report.
Gregory, Paul. 2016. International Criminal Court: Russia;s Invasion Of Ukraine Is A 'Crime,' Not A Civil War. November 20. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/paulroderickgregory/2016/11/20/international-criminal-court-russias-invasion-of-ukraine-is-a-crime-not-a-civil-war/2/#2a2c06844a2b.
Hartcher, Peter. 2018. Russia's been at war with the US for years – they just didn't know it. April 17. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/russia-s-been-at-war-with-the-us-for-years-they-just-didn-t-know-it-20180416-p4z9xe.html.
McFaul, Michael. 2018. Ukraine’s democracy is approaching ‘make or break’ — and the West is missing in action. May 1. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/05/01/ukraines-democracy-is-approaching-make-or-break-and-the-west-is-missing-in-action/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ea4dbc3ed106.