Much has been made in the media in recent weeks about the increased violence in East Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic, or DPR. Scores of civilians and military alike have been killed in recent artillery duels as heavy weapons have again appeared on the frontlines as the Minsk peace accords collapse. It goes without saying, but it doesn’t look like this will end well.
The violence comes with reports of an increased Russian military presence on the border and a heightened level of chaos within Ukraine as nationalist forces challenge the Poroshenko government for power. All the while, Ukraine struggles to avoid default and combat the rampant corruption within its society, a legacy of Soviet rule.
However, one news item did not receive much attention in the mainstream press, although it was picked up by several blogs. Earlier in the week, Xinhau, the Chinese state news agency, reported that the rebels in Donetsk are preparing to hold another referendum to succeed from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The reporting from Xinhau was curious as it comes amid close cooperation between Russia and China militarily as the two nations hold their largest ever naval drills in the South China Sea.
The Ukrainian press also picked up the Donetsk announcement quoting the leader of the DPR, Zakharchenko, “Russian President Vladimir Putin once again stressed during his ‘direct line’ [telephone call-in show] that there is no alternative to a political settlement of the situation in the Donbas. He stressed that the residents of Donbas should be given the right to decide how they live, and with whom, and under what conditions.”
With increased shelling around the strategically important port city of Mariupol, the main barrier preventing a Russian land bridge to the previously annexed Crimean Peninsula, it seems possible that Mr. Putin has decided to go all-in regarding Russian control of East Ukraine.