Events in eastern Ukraine are continuing to unfold at a quick and dangerous pace, with the latest twist being defence ministry officials in Kiev saying yesterday that pro-Russian militants had taken two of their soldiers “hostage” in Lugansk. This kidnapping follows a series of limited military movements in which a seized airfield in the city of Kramatorsk was retaken by Ukrainian troops.
Elsewhere, buildings in cities from Slovyansk to Donetsk remain in the hands of separatists, who have declared an independent republic of Don Bass and are demanding a Crimea-style referendum on rejoining Russia.
Despite these developments on the ground, what is more troubling are the sound bites coming from both Kiev and Moscow, with senior ministers in both capitals warning that Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war.
Certainly, the situation in the east is extremely volatile, with local security forces on the ground unwilling to take direct action against the separatists, while Kiev itself is warning that a military operation is inevitable given that the separatists have ignored a series of deadlines to cease and desist. Nato intelligence reports say that there are brigades of 40,000 Russian troops ready to move westwards at a moment’s notice.
However, while Moscow and Kiev both say there is a fear of civil war, now more than ever is the time for dialogue between all parties. Now is not the time for an ill-advised military intervention that can be interpreted as an escalation of the crisis on the ground. The new government in Kiev — one that came to power directly against the expressed democratic wishes of those in eastern Ukraine — needs to negotiate with rather than confront the separatists. A restoration of Russian as an official language, abolished when the new government took power in Kiev, would certainly help ease the fury of the Russian-speaking easterners.
Given the determination of the separatists and their apparent readiness to use force to hold the buildings, any military operation will only result in deaths of civilians and destruction in an area already facing infrastructure and economic challenges.