As ominous reports of increased violations of the Minsk 2.0 ceasefire continue to surface and the Kiev government paves the way for martial law, the winds of war appear to be picking up again. Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has even gone so far as to publicly state, without providing details, that "someone in the European Union" is sabotaging the ceasefire.
Against this backdrop, the EU-Ukraine Summit last week hailed a neoliberal free trade agreement set to take effect on January 1, 2016, but it was also made clear that any EU membership aspirations for Ukraine are still a distant dream, rendering Ukraine's relationship with the EU to be a rather lopsided one in terms of who benefits and who suffers.
It seems like a good time to take a look at the parties in the Ukraine war, their interests and what may be expected in the future.
The Kiev Government -- How it Came to Power and the Nature of its Rule
The European Union, led by Germany, tried to pressure Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich to sign an Association agreement. Upon review of how the agreement would actually affect his country economically -- already the poorest in Europe -- including austerity measures, renunciation of their significant trade with Russia and the supplanting of Ukraine's native oligarchs, Yanukovich balked and opted to go with a Russian deal comprised of a $15 billion loan and reduced gas rates. As it turns out, the West was not in fact offering Ukraine free trade or even visa-free travel but a self-serving deal that had little to no benefit to Ukraine. Most leaders in Yanukovich's place would have done the same.
Throughout the period of negotiating this association agreement, Russia requested three way talks to avert problems. Of course, Russia wanted to protect its own economic and trade interests, but it also had an interest in preventing friction or instability on its border. However, they were basically told by the West to drop dead.
According to an independent investigation by Germany's ARD TV into the events surrounding the ouster of the democratically elected president, specifically the violence on the Maidan, found that sniper shots fired on February 20th, which resulted in almost 100 deaths, came primarily from buildings controlled by the Maidan protesters, including members of Right Sector. A more in-depth forensic investigation was conducted by Ukrainian-Canadian academic Ivan Katchanovski, PhD. His conclusions supported the ARD report. This is all consistent with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet's account to then European High Commissioner Catherine Ashton in an intercepted phone call posted to YouTube on February 26, 2014, wherein he stated that his sources, including Dr. Olga Bolgomets -- who was an ardent supporter of the original Maidan protests -- reported forensic evidence indicating that the snipers were Maidan protesters. Paet also reported that members of the Ukrainian parliament had been beaten and threatened during the period in question.
Prior to the sniper violence and the ouster of Yanukovich, State Department official Victoria Nuland and US ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt were caught planning the imminent coup in an intercepted phone call posted on February 6th wherein they are discussing how to "glue this thing" and who will be the best person to lead a post-Yanukovich Ukraine, declaring "Yats is the guy." Nuland also famously disparaged the EU's less aggressive approach to engineering a zero-sum position for Ukraine with respect to its relations with the West and Russia.
The Kiev government that has come after the overthrow of the corrupt but democratically elected Yanukovich has, by all reasonable measures, overseen a degeneration of the country into something far more sinister. Neo-Nazis were given posts in the Interior and Education Ministries, were elected to the Rada in small numbers but are also members of and have significant influence in other parliamentary parties that won larger percentages. These Neo-Nazis had allegedly threatened the Kiev government in the past with a coup if it didn't placate their desires. A ministry of truth has been established, creating an atmosphere that allows for the recent killing spree of journalists and opposition politicians, to which the head of the SBU responded by saying, "I think that at the present time, when a war practically going on, "Ukrainophobes," if they don't shut their mouths, should at least stop their rhetoric." World War II era Nazi collaborator, Stepan Bandera, involved in the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in Western Ukraine, has become an openly celebrated hero. A government that has such elements will not be inclined to reach a political compromise with the rebels in the southeast, although the Kiev government, as discussed in more detail below, is obligated by the Minsk 2.0 agreement to do so.
Furthermore, Ukraine's economy has imploded with S&P predicting default as "virtually inevitable," a currency that has devalued by 40% in 2015 alone and an inflation rate of 272%. The Kiev government has no money and has had to rely on EU and IMF loans -- with the latter institution actually breaking its own rules about lending to a nation conducting war.
The Novorossiyan Rebels
The West has typically characterized the rebels in the southeast of Ukraine as puppets of Russia with no legitimate grievances or indigenous support. However, American Russia scholar Nicolai Petro, who spent a year in Ukraine and was in country when the upheaval occurred, has cited sociological surveys of Donbas residents from March, April and May of 2014 in which the results show that majorities considered the Right Sector to be dangerous and influential and the Maidan protests to be illegal and representing "an armed overthrow of the government, organized by the opposition, with the assistance of the West."
Independent video journalist Patrick Lancaster, who has been reporting from the Donbas since spring of 2014, stated that most of the fighters he has encountered on both sides are Ukrainian.
British Russia scholar Paul Robinson has estimated that 90% of the fighters in the Donbas are Ukrainian. Furthermore, he states that the original rebellion constituted regular citizens who took control of local government buildings in response to the startling events coming out of post-coup Kiev where laws were introduced seeking to delegitimize the Russian language, neo-Nazis were given posts in the Interior and Education departments and many acts of violence were committed against members of the Communist Party and the Party of Regions.