Putin Problems: Why Is Ukraine's Frozen War Heating Up Again?

February 20, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: UkraineLuhanskDonetskRussiaVolodymyr Zelensky

Putin Problems: Why Is Ukraine's Frozen War Heating Up Again?

A real 'forever war.'

Yet, from an operational perspective, Russia’s original hybrid warfare plan in the Donbas was an abject failure, requiring the use of conventional military force to save face. Today, with its rapidly strengthening conventional military, Ukraine is now positioned to become a regional counterbalance against Russian military power in Eastern Europe. 

Moreover, Ukraine’s grassroots war effort in 2014 sends a deterrent message to Moscow, underscoring that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine would be met with a protracted, guerrilla resistance.

The ‘Dreadful Lessons of History’

The fifth anniversary of the Minsk II case-fire should serve as a sobering reminder for Western democracies that Europe’s two largest militaries in terms of manpower are still shooting at each every day in the Donbas. 

The longer that precarious status quo continues, the greater the chance that an unforeseen accident might ignite a much bigger war that spreads well beyond the limits of the Donbas battlefields.

So long as the Minsk II cease-fire allows Russia to carry on prosecuting its frozen war in eastern Ukraine, Europe will remain just one “Franz Ferdinand” scenario away from another major land war. The unthinkable could happen again. After all, wars often begin which no one wants.

Just two living generations ago, Ukraine was the deadliest battlefield of the deadliest war in human history. Some of the soldiers who fought in that war, and the civilians who survived it, are still alive today. Thus, no one should think that another war like that is impossible, or that the events of our time are somehow immune to history’s perennial cycles of war and peace.

With history as a guide, one thing is clear: If the war in Ukraine accidentally escalates into a bigger conflict, Russians and Ukrainians won’t be the only ones fighting in it.

Five years after the failed Minsk II cease-fire was supposed to go into effect and unconditionally curb combat in eastern Ukraine, a key question remains unanswered:

When, and where, will this war end?

At a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 15, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recalled visiting a wounded Ukrainian veteran at a military hospital in Kyiv, just two weeks earlier.

“And as we were getting ready to leave, he got up. He grabbed his crutches. He moved across the room and he went to his wall locker, grabbed his uniform, pulled off his patch, and he handed me his unit logo. He told me to keep it; he wanted me to have it,” Pompeo said, adding: “That moment hit home for me. It reminded me that sovereignty is worth fighting for and that it’s real, that we’re all in this fight together.”

His article first appeared in The Daily Signal.