Ukraine conflict could spark 'all-out war' experts warn
Minsk ceasfire deal violated by recent fighting, monitors claim
by Andrew Jay Rosenbaum
The conflict in Ukraine continues to escalate and could spiral out of control, experts have told Anadolu Agency.
Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said: “The Special Monitoring Mission [SMM] has seen a sharp increase in tension levels in the conflict since June 3.
“We see no indication of adhesion to the first measure of the Feb. 15 Minsk Agreement, which calls for a ceasefire.”
Fighting has continued in specific spots along the 'contact line' – the division between territory held by pro-Russian separatist rebels and the Ukrainian army – since the agreement was signed, Hug said.
“But, at the moment, there is fighting all along the contact line,” Hug said, noting that Marinka, in the Donetsk province, was a hot spot.
Clashes around Marinka and at nearby villages claimed some 30 lives last week and threatened to escalate on Thursday and Friday, when a Ukraine military spokesman reported mortar fire and attacks with small-arms.
Security analysts warn that escalation of the conflict could lead to “all-out war”.
“The tension has reached an extremely high level,” says Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of Foreign Relations and International Security Programs at the Razumkov Center in Kiev, in an interview with Anadolu Agency.
“It would only take an accident or incident of some kind to see the conflict blow up into all-out war.”
- Ambassador warns of escalation
Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Sergiy Korsunsky, told Anadolu Agency that Ukraine will take the necessary steps to defend its territory as the conflict grows more intense.
“The separatist aggression around Maryinka has become another evidence of Russia’s intentions to escalate the confrontation in southeastern Ukraine and to disrupt the Minsk process.
“Ukraine, as a responsible part of the agreement reached, is fulfilling its obligations related to de-escalation of the situation on the ground. However, if the aggressive provocations of Russia and Russia-sponsored terrorists continue, Ukraine reserves its right to reciprocate in an appropriate manner.”
Korsunsky said, however, that Ukraine would make an utmost effort for a diplomatic solution.
“Since the very beginning of Russia’s aggression, Ukraine has been constantly counteracting and protesting it both militarily and diplomatically.
“As a result of Ukraine’s diplomatic activity, 100 UN member countries officially recognized the fact of Russian aggression against Ukraine and supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The latest outbreak of terrorist activities in south-eastern Ukraine has also been protested at all diplomatic levels and condemned by our partners throughout the world.
“Particularly I refer to the recent G7 meeting and statements by the leaders of Germany, the U.S. and Canada,” Korsunsky said.
Analyst Melnyk also claimed that Russia has stepped up the provision of weapons and troop support to the pro-Russian separatists.
“Russia’s strategy is to use rebel aggression to force concessions from Ukraine’s Western allies. The idea is: the more there is a threat of increased conflict, the more likely the West is to compromise on sanctions in an effort to avoid war.”
Melnyk said that this latest offensive dates from June 3, shortly before an EU meeting at which the sanctions policy was to be considered.
Hug pointed out that there is evidence that Russian troops are now fighting alongside the pro-Russian separatists.
“The SMM has seen uniformed men and women in areas not controlled by the government. We have also interviewed two detainees, and those individuals suggested that they were members of a Russian armed unit in Ukraine.”
On Wednesday, Sky News reported finding the graves of three Russian soldiers along with evidence that they had served in the Ukraine conflict.
Russia continues to deny that any of its armed forces are taking part in the conflict.
- Build-up of forces
The London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which specializes in defense research, said in a report published in May that Russian troops have fought alongside the rebels since August 2014.
“The presence of large numbers of Russian troops on Ukrainian sovereign territory has, more or less, since become a permanent feature of the conflict,” the report said. There are about 9,000 Russian troops involved in the conflict, according to RUSI research.
The U.S. has responded to the threat, although refusing to put ‘boots on the ground’ in Ukraine. NATO and the United States conducted bilateral training exercises with former Soviet republics in recent weeks, including Georgia and Ukraine. About 100 fighter jets and 4,000 military personnel from the United States and eight European countries also engaged in exercises over the Arctic on May 27 – these continued until June 5.
Baltic states, concerned by the purported Russian buildup, are also taking action.
Lithuania has restarted its conscription program and increased its defense spending by 50 percent, along with Latvia by 15 percent, Estonia by 7.5 percent, and Poland by 20 percent, according to a note by the World Policy Institute published on Thursday.
- Chances for peace
Amid all this heightened tension, can peace be achieved?
“The current strategy of the West, based on a ceasefire, simply isn’t working,” Melnyk says.
“The only workable strategy would involve treating Russia as an actual actor in the conflict, and not as an onlooker that simply supports Ukraine. Then Russia should be presented with a united front that demands specific objectives,” he adds.
Ambassador Korsunsky describes Russia as the principal obstacle to a peace accord.
“Can there be peace? Hope dies hard. However, I would like to emphasize that we are being attacked by the second-most powerful army in the world and the terrorists are financed, trained and equipped by this army.”
Calling for renewed sanctions on Russia, Korsunsky added: “The international community previously stated that an assault on Mariupol would be a red line and, should Russia cross it, this would trigger an immediate and resolute response.
“This kind of resolute support for Ukraine should be implemented, and then permanent resolution is more probable.”