In a televised interview earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that war with Ukraine is unlikely.
“I think that such an apocalyptic scenario is unlikely and I hope this will never happen,”
Putin told a reporter with Russia’s state-owned TV company.
In the interview, Putin reiterated his support for the Minsk agreement (a ceasefire deal brokered in Belarus earlier this month), saying that it was the best way to stabilize eastern Ukraine.
The region has been ravaged by conflict since last February, when pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine refused to recognize the new government in Kiev following the Ukrainian revolution. The ensuing conflict between the separatists and the Ukrainian military has claimed over 5,600 lives and displaced more than a quarter million Ukrainians.
The ceasefire agreed to in Minsk officially began on February 15, but fighting has continued in the region despite this truce.
On the very first day of the ceasefire, the Ukrainian government accused the pro-Russian separatists of violating the ceasefire 112 times in attacks on Ukrainian troops. Separatist leaders quickly counter-claimed that Ukrainian troops had violated the agreement 27 times themselves.
The Minsk agreement hasn’t been a complete failure, however. The Moscow Times reports:
“Fighting has diminished since Kiev’s forces abandoned Debaltseve in defeat last Wednesday, and there were hopeful signs for the truce over the weekend, with an overnight exchange of around 200 prisoners late on Saturday and an agreement on Sunday to begin pulling back artillery from the front.”
Still, the conflict is far from over. Earlier today (Feb. 23), the Ukrainian government said that they would not be withdrawing their heavy artillery as promised, citing separatist attacks on a Ukrainian military encampment this past weekend.
“Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there can not yet be any talk of pulling back weapons,”
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said in a televised news briefing.
Ukraine is also worried about the growing separatist presence near the city of Mariupol. This city holds special strategic importance because if it falls to pro-Russian forces, it could eventually establish a land corridor between mainland Russia and the Crimean peninsula (which Russia annexed following the Ukrainian revolution).
According to the Moscow Times,
“Kiev says the rebels are reinforcing near Mariupol for a possible assault on the port, the biggest city in the two rebellious provinces still in government hands. Defense analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who has close ties to the military, said rebels had brought 350 fighters and 20 armored vehicles including six tanks to the area.”
Sergei, a 52-year-old resident of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, is unsure whether or not the recent ceasefire deal will be able to bring lasting peace to Ukraine.
“I hope, I just hope, in the truce. No one knows what will happen with the way the sides are behaving,”
he told the Moscow Times.
Still, Sergei seems to think things are improving:
“Now it’s quiet, it’s OK on the streets. You want such quiet. It was difficult to sleep before, not knowing whether you would wake up,”