Will Ukraine ever actually join the EU?

Military rally on the border Will Russia start a war in eastern Ukraine?

For several weeks now, eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army have been fighting each other since spring 2014, has once again been the focus of attention. Russia is gathering troops on the border with Ukraine, Kiev mourns new deaths almost every day. In the western media there is often talk of the possible flare-up of the great war in Donbass. Now the new US President Joe Biden has offered his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a meeting. Could the situation in eastern Ukraine really get out of hand?

Direct deployment of the Russian army unlikely

Ukraine's leading political scientists do not anticipate an open war between Russia and Ukraine, but nevertheless regard the situation as serious. "Rationally speaking, it is like this: if the Russians had wanted a major war, they would have had to start it all of a sudden," believes Volodymyr Fessenko, a renowned political scientist who heads the Center for Applied Political Research Penta. "However, history knows enough examples that the escalation of psychological tension alone led to a war. In addition, we now have a special situation in Donbass. Russia has issued several hundred thousand passports in the occupied territory and can at any time point out the protection of its own citizens . "

"A real war scenario would lead to a further deterioration in Russian relations with the West and would be unfavorable for Moscow," said Olexy Haran, professor at the Kiev-Mohyla Academy, the MDR. "I always hear the thesis from pro-Russian experts that Moscow is not interested in a war because it has to finish the construction of Nord Stream 2. But there is another scenario, namely that the separatists occupy some strategic place with the help of Russia to create a more favorable situation for further negotiations. This scenario would also lead to critical tensions with the West. "

"I do not believe in the direct use of the Russian army," says political scientist Petro Oleschtschuk from the Kiev Shevchenko University. "The escalation on the front line is quite possible. It will probably take place within the framework of the usual shelling. They want to test Kiev's defensive capabilities. I still cannot imagine how they can achieve their goal of achieving peace on the terms Moscow enforce it. No Ukrainian government would ever agree to it. " The Ukrainian army is in a completely different state than in 2014, adds Volodymyr Fessenko: "As of now, it would be an impossible undertaking to occupy the entire Donbass, for example." The separatists currently control only about a third of the industrial region.

The Minsk Agreement is unfavorable for Ukraine

The background to the current tensions is complex. Fighting has been going on in Donbass since spring 2014, with more than 13,000 people killed, according to UN figures. After a long and hot phase, following the adoption of the Minsk Peace Agreement in February 2014, the conflict was mainly confined to the front line. Ideally, the Minsk Agreement should serve as a kind of road map for the reintegration of the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk into Ukraine. After Volodymyr Zelenskyi's victory in the 2019 presidential election, there were again faint hopes that the agreement could be implemented: troops were withdrawn from certain locations and prisoners were exchanged for the first time in a long time.

The Minsk Agreement, passed in the midst of a military debacle in Kiev, is in principle unfavorable for Ukraine. The occupied territories are to be given extended autonomy rights after local elections have been held. The elections would take place under the direction of the separatists, Kiev would have no control over whether they were really fair and free. Ukrainian President Zelenskyi, whom the opposition once labeled as pro-Russia, also considers this unacceptable. Ukraine fears that this would only legitimize the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Zelenskyi has tightened his position vis-à-vis Moscow since he took office and is now taking action against the Kremlin. Among other things, he imposed sanctions on Putin's powerful personal friend, Viktor Medvedchuk, and switched off three pro-Russian news channels from his economic empire.