The crisis in Ukraine’s Donbass region

GS 3, International Relations and its effects on Indian Policies.


  • Since Russia’s invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine have been seizing territory and holding a referendum on whether or not to declare independence from Ukraine.
  • As a result, these Ukrainian areas have witnessed battles between the separatists and Ukrainian troops, which have resulted in the deaths of over 14,000 people, the displacement of around 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the devastation of the local economy.
  • Since late October, when Russia began concentrating soldiers along the Ukrainian border, the shelling has been more frequent and intense.

The story so far:

  • According to reports, the rebel-held self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR/DPR and LNR/LPR) in eastern Ukraine have begun evacuating citizens to the Rostov area in Russia, saying that a Ukrainian military operation is about to begin. In addition, they have proclaimed a complete military mobilisation.
  • Shelling is taking place between Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists, including in residential areas, and in reaction, Russia has increased military drills around Ukraine’s northern borders.
  • Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the Russian Duma, has previously stated that Russia is prepared to protect its nationals in the DNR and LNR if their lives are in danger. Everyone who arrives from the Donbass will be compensated with 10,000 roubles and will be given asylum in Moscow. It is also preparing passports for persons from the region in a short amount of time. Meanwhile, the Duma has recommended that President Putin begin the process of acknowledging the independence of the DNR and LPR, which is expected to take place soon.
  • There is a deluge of accusations going about, with the rebels and Russia accusing Ukraine of carrying out a genocide against the Russian-speaking people in certain regions, and Ukraine and the West accusing Russia of inventing a crisis as a pretext for invading Ukraine.

How did the crisis start?

  • The Donbass area, which includes the Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk, has been at the heart of the war since Russia attacked and seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
  • After taking control of territory in Eastern Ukraine in April 2014 (with Russia’s assistance through hybrid warfare), pro-Russian separatists staged a referendum in May 2014 to proclaim independence from the rest of Ukraine, which passed with overwhelming support.
  • This has resulted in more than 14,000 deaths, according to most estimates, as a result of shelling and skirmishes between rebels and Ukrainian forces in these predominantly Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine (where more than 70% of the population speaks Russian).
  • This has also resulted in the displacement of approximately 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), as well as the destruction of the local economy in these areas. What has changed is that the shelling has been more intense since Russia began assembling soldiers near the Ukrainian border in October of last year.
  • The potential of a conflict in the Donbass cannot be ruled out if the situation in the region worsens further. One method of preventing the commencement of a conflict would be for Russia to insist on the quick implementation of the Minsk accords, as has been urged.

The Agreements of Minsk:

Minsk I:

  • In September 2014, the Ukrainian government and rebels supported by Russia reached an agreement on a 12-point ceasefire in the Belarusian city of Minsk.
  • Prisoner swaps, humanitarian assistance supplies, and the removal of heavy weaponry were among the stipulations of the agreement.
  • The agreement was swiftly dissolved as a result of infractions on both parties.

Minsk II:

  • In 2015, an open confrontation was averted as a result of the signing of the ‘Minsk II’ peace accord, which was brokered by France and Germany and mediated by the United Nations.
  • Its goal was to bring the battle in the rebel-held districts to a close and give over control of the border to Ukrainian national soldiers.
  • It was signed by representatives from Russia, Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the leaders of two pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine and western Belarus.
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s biggest intergovernmental organisation devoted to security. Among the issues covered by its mandate are issues such as arms control, promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair election.

Can implementing the Minsk Agreement avert war?

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the Minsk 2 agreement be implemented as soon as possible by the West, which has been a major demand of the West. While the accord is far from perfect, it might serve as a starting point for finding a diplomatic solution to the present situation, and its revival could be the “sole road on which peace can be constructed,” as French President Emmanuel Macron has stated.
  • In the short term, it could help Ukraine regain control over its borders and put an end to the threat of a Russian invasion, whereas for Russia, it could be a way to ensure that Ukraine never joins NATO and that the Russian language and culture are protected under a new federal Constitution in Ukraine, both of which are desirable outcomes. However, it is possible that the type of autonomy that the LNR and DPR may get would be the subject of lengthy talks.
  • Despite the newest reports of a Biden-Putin summit to be followed by negotiations between all key parties, it is possible that this crisis, which has the potential to expand into a catastrophic war, may be brought under control soon.


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