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Forcing Kiev’s Hand

Why Russia Won’t Accept a Frozen Conflict in Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists collect parts from a destroyed Ukrainian army tank in the town of Vuhlehirsk, west of Debaltseve, February 2015.  BAZ RATNER / REUTERS

Viewed from Washington, the conflict in Ukraine's east seems to have reached a plateau. Despite several cease-fire agreements, fighting along the frontlines has never ceased completely. Yet the intensity of the violence has markedly decreased, and the Russian military and its separatist allies have not launched a major offensive in over six months. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin seems unwilling to withdraw his forces from the east, some now hope that the conflict will freeze—that is, that the bloodshed will come to an end even in the absence of a formal political settlement—allowing Kiev to move on with reforms, economic recovery, and European integration. Such an outcome, the German Bundestag member Rolf Mützenich argued in a February essay for Foreign Affairs, should satisfy the West.

It is easy to see how a frozen conflict scenario might appeal to the current government in Kiev.

This hope has induced

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