Has Russia won the war in Ukraine? Late last week in Minsk, negotiators representing Ukraine, the separatist forces, and Russia agreed to a ceasefire that also calls for a release of prisoners and joint patrols of the border. The parties also made a vague agreement to work toward a political settlement. If this deal holds -- plenty of earlier ceasefires have fallen apart as soon as they were signed -- then the active phase of fighting in eastern Ukraine will have come to end on terms favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukrainian forces will stop their five-month-long effort to defeat rebel fighters in the Donbas, giving rise to a de facto pro-Russian breakaway statelet and a situation that will, by definition, be murky and unstable.
Whether the rebel-held regions of the Donbas become another Republika Srpska (a state within a state that weighs on decision-making in the capital) or Abkhazia (a frozen conflict), the Kremlin will have gained a mechanism for weakening the Ukrainian state and influencing its politics for years to come. The political settlement is likely to drag on for some time, perhaps forever: No Ukrainian leader will make the concessions that the rebels’ proxy bosses in Moscow require. An unresolved civil war in a state of indefinite ceasefire -- which will likely see intermittent clashes, since many of the rebel formations and pro-Kiev battalions on the front-lines are skeptical of the deal -- will be a drag on the Poroshenko administration and the Ukrainian state for decades to come.
For one, Ukraine will be hampered in its efforts to reform and strengthen the workings of a government made hollow by years of neglect and corruption. And it will be that much harder for the country to present a real threat to Russia’s interests, as defined by President Putin, anytime soon. And even if it ever does, Moscow has a ready lever to pull to pressure and intimidate Kiev. No less important to Russia, the festering conflict
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