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Conflict in Ukraine: current status and future prospects

May 10, 2016

astern_ukraine_624 - CopySummary: It is hard to agree on key issues regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine: what Russia wants, how powerful is Russia, what to prioritise:  the conflict or political reform.  The large flaws in Minsk II and failures to resolve the conflict point to a risk of the conflict becoming the “new normal”.  The frozen conflict can exacerbate the current poor prospects for political and economic reform in Ukraine.  On the positive side, civil society has mobilised and may even be setting an example to the politicians.

I took part in a SIPRI discussion in Stockholm at the end of last month

In the chair was Dr Ian Anthony, with speakers as follows:

Dr Arkady Moshes – Finnish Inst of International Affairs

Dr Neil Melvin – SIPRI

Henrik Hallgren – International Council of Swedish Industry

Tim Foxley – pol/mil analyst

Very interesting discussion, looking at aspects of the conflict in Ukraine: political overview, international dimensions, conflict update and the Ukraine regions.  The overarching theme was of pessimism – political reform in Ukraine was very slow, with corruption and oligarchs still dominating.  The conflict was seeing thousands of individual ceasefire violations  – particularly on the rise since March, according to the OSCE – although the direction of the conflict was not clear.

There was no clear agreement on several key issues:

Is resolving the conflict the priority or should the focus be on the economic and political reconstruction of Ukraine?

What does Russia want?

How much of Russia’s 2014 actions were planned vice reacted to?

How strong is Russia’s position?

Risks:

  • Minsk not tenable?  The conflict and the paralysis of Minsk II may simply become the “new normal” – no one has the capability of desire to resolve it.
  • Further expansion of the conflict by accident (local commander overreaches himself) or design (Russian or separatist effort to grab more land)
  • Further expansion of Russian overt/covert activity in Eastern Europe
  • Failure of significant political/economic reform in Ukraine (ad resultant Western European impatience)

Positives:

  • The mobilisation of civil society in Ukraine – in some ways the population is more mature than the political system
  • Large scale offensives in Easteren Ukraine look less likely – neither party has will or resources
  • “Separatist” type interventions do not look likely to occur elsewhere (eg Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk) – Ukraine developing resilience
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