Fears for civil war in Ukraine

On 6 May the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, convened an emergency session behind closed doors to discuss the escalating crisis in the country. Security forces have been trying to regain control over eastern parts of the country after pro-Russian separatists started occupying government buildings since 15 April. After days of intense fighting the situation remains volatile and there seems to be no end in sight.

French President Francois Hollande warned that “chaos and the risk of civil war” were looming over Ukraine and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the situation could lead to a military confrontation. NATO top-commander, General Philip Breedlove, stated that NATO should consider permanently stationing defensive forces in Eastern Europe.

Speaking at a meeting of the Council of Europe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the idea of new international talks on the conflict in Ukraine. He stated a solution had already been achieved, the Geneva agreement of 17 April, and new talks would be meaningless. The Ukrainian government accuses Russia of masterminding the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.   

Meanwhile, US Foreign Secretary John Kerry met with EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton in Washington. Both criticized Russia for failing to abide by the Geneva agreement aimed at deescalating the violence. They threatened with new sanctions if Russia tried to annex additional parts of Ukraine. Asthon stated “It’s for the people of the Ukraine to decide what Ukraine is and will be, and they will consider very carefully where they sit in the world”.  

A volatile situation

Ukrainian security forces have been trying to regain control over eastern parts of the country, which have been held by pro-Russian separatists. They launched a major military operation against the separatists in the city of Slavyansk on 2 May. During the operation several separatists were killed and two Ukrainian helicopters where shot down, killing the pilots. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov described the pro-Russian separatist forces as professional mercenaries.

In the southern port city of Odessa over 30 people have been killed in a fire at the labor-union building after clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian demonstrators on 2 May. The fire had reportedly started after Molotov cocktails were thrown in by pro-Ukrainian protesters after pro-Russian activists fled to the building during fierce street fights. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the violence was part of a Russian plan to “destroy Ukraine and its statehood”.

By 5 May Ukrainian security forces seemed to make progress in their operation against the separatists in the city of Slavyansk. Amidst reports that the separatists had shot down another Ukrainian helicopter, Avakov said security forces advanced “little by little” towards the centre of Slavyansk.

Russia’s foreign ministry called on Ukraine to suspend its operations against the separatists in eastern Ukraine. It stated to the Ukrainian government “to come to their saneness, to stop the bloodshed, withdraw forces, and finally sit down at the negotiating table to begin a normal dialogue about ways to resolve the political crisis”. Most Western states accuse Russia of instigating the violence, so their plea falls on deaf ears.  

Presidential elections

Ukraine plans to hold presidential elections on 25 May, regardless of the violence in the country. The West supports the vote, claiming it to be a crucial part of restoring peace and stability in Ukraine. Russia however, states the presidential vote is illegitimate, particularly if the government cannot stabilize the country first. A referendum on the national integrity of Ukraine, scheduled for the same day, has been delayed due to the political unrest.

The presidential election polls predict a race between ‘chocolate king’ businessman Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Critics claim little will change in Ukraine, as both presidential heavyweights are oligarch politicians. Furthermore, parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2017, meaning the pre-Maidan parliament will remain seated for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Pro-Russian separatists in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk are planning to hold a referendum to push for independence on 11 May. Foreign Minister Kerry of the US stated “We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine. Its pursuit will create even more problems in the effort to try to deescalate the situation”. He said it was “the Crimea play-book all over again […] no civilized nation is going to recognize the results of such a bogus effort”.

Sources: Al Jazeera, Radio Free Europe I, Radio Free Europe II, The BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

Picture: The Telegraph / Roland Oliphant

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