Russia is not going to wait for a death by a thousand cuts and its ability to restrain separatist machinations cannot be continued indefinitely. We've been here before in January of 2015. Russia needs a resolution soon, much more so than Ukraine. Moscow may try to modulate the violence to threaten the collapse of Ukraine's front line without taking substantial territory so as to avoid further sanctions, but war is an unpredictable business. A better option is for the West to set Russia and Ukraine on a path towards elections in the occupied region and lifting of the blockade. This is possible, it is just not currently being done. This would give Russia an alternative to another desperate but crushing attack on Ukraine's military. Kiev itself needs a realistic plan for dealing with Moscow other than the current war of attrition.
Ukraine has the advantage, but its situation is hardly rosy. While American perceptions of Russia as a threat have been growing, European views of Ukraine have been regressing back to what they were before the Maidan. If Russia attacks again, Ukraine may be promised lethal aid by the United States. That debate is sure to reignite, and the proponents could win the next round. This will not represent a U.S. commitment to participate in a proxy war against Russia and therefore fundamentally changes nothing. In Europe, Ukraine will receive lukewarm support. It is doubtful whether Germany will be willing to invest its political capital again to negotiate new terms for Kiev. Instead it will politely point back to the terms of Minsk II. The West would do better trying to prevent this chain of events now instead of reacting to them after another cycle of bloodshed.
Michael Kofman is a Public Policy Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Wilson Center and Research Scientist at CNA. The views expressed in this piece are the author's own.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vitaly V. Kuzmin