The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, both warned this week that the situation in eastern Ukraine has significantly deteriorated. Their warnings came a week after the United Nations reported increased fighting in the Donbas between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed “separatists,” saying it has resulted in more civilians deaths and “further aggravated a dire human rights and humanitarian situation” as winter sets in. A total of 10,303 deaths related to the conflict have been recorded between April 14, 2014, and November 15, 2017.
Ambassador Volker said on December 19 that 2017 has been the deadliest year since the conflict begun by Russian-backed militants started in April 2014. He added that the night of December 18 – when the village of Novoluhanske was attacked – “was one of the most violent nights, certainly since February, and possibly this year.” The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported that eight civilians were injured. Some 50 houses, nine apartment buildings, a kindergarten, a school, a first-aid station, and power and gas lines were damaged as a result of intense shelling. What’s more, Mr. Volker noted that the “massive escalation” came right after Russia had withdrawn from the Joint Center for Coordination and Control, which is charged with “deconfliction” and implementation of the Minsk agreement. Speaking on December 20, a spokesperson for Ms. Mogherini reported that the positioning of forces near residential areas and “firing from or toward critical infrastructure shows complete disrespect for peoples’ lives.”
Back in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on December 19 made it clear who is to blame for the escalation: “Russia and its proxies are the source of violence in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian government continues to perpetuate an active conflict and humanitarian crisis through its leadership and supply of military forces on the ground, as well as its direct control over proxy authorities. The conflict in eastern Ukraine is not an organic civil war. The so-called ‘republics’ that Russia created are not legitimate entities.”
Thankfully, there was also some good news.
Both Canada and the United States have given the green light to weapons purchases by Ukraine. Canada added Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List on December 13, allowing Canadian companies and individuals to apply for a permit to export certain firearms, weapons and devices to Ukraine. That same day, the U.S. made a similar decision, which was not made public until a week later when the State Department announced it had approved an export license for Ukraine to buy certain types of light weapons and small arms from U.S. manufacturers. To be sure, this is not the same as the U.S. supplying Ukraine with lethal defensive weapons, but it is a step in the right direction. Indeed, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had recommended earlier this year that the U.S. provide such weapons to help Ukraine “protect [its] sovereignty.”