News / Europe

As Ukraine Separatists Retreat, Russia’s Next Moves Unclear

  • An armed pro-Russian separatist from the so-called Vostok (East) Battalion stands guard at a checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk July 8, 2014.
  • Ukrainian paratroopers gather near the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, July 8, 2014.
  • A Ukrainian soldier stands near a destroyed military vehicle that belonged to pro-Russian separatists just outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk, July 7, 2014.
  • A local resident walks past a Ukrainian armored vehicle in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, July 7, 2014.
  • A pro-Russian fighter mans a checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, July 7, 2014.
  • Ukrainian troops move out from the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine, July 7, 2014.
  • People walk under a destroyed railroad bridge over a main road leading into Donetsk, near the village of Novobakhmutivka, north of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, July 7, 2014.
  • Ukrainian soldiers set up a barbed wire fence at a temporary base near the city of Slovyansk, July 6, 2014.
  • People wait for food aid from Ukrainian soldiers in Slovyansk, July 6, 2014.
Images from Ukraine
Daniel Schearf

Russia has urged Ukrainian authorities to negotiate a cease-fire, after separatist rebels in southeast Ukraine retreated to the two largest cities they control, Donetsk and Luhansk. But Ukraine has vowed to continue its offensive, saying rebels must first lay down their arms.

Separatist rebels are reinforcing blockades and checkpoints as a government military advance forced them to flee their stronghold of Slovyansk.

The surprise retreat came after Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko ended a 10-day cease-fire and ordered troops to retake rebel-held territory. Some rebel groups had refused to honor the cease-fire.

The European Union is threatening further sanctions against Russia if it does not do more to rein in the rebels.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed concerns about expanded EU sanctions.

He said in regards to Ukraine, he has stopped following EU decisions on black, gray or differently colored lists or deadlines the bloc imposes. He said they do not interest Russia. Above all else, he stressed, Russia is interested in the need to stop the bloodshed.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin did not dismiss the possibility of a negotiated cease-fire. He cited discussions between representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the rebels mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Klimkin said they need a consistent and clear signal, including from Russia, that the separatists will talk to reach a bilateral cease-fire. The trilateral contact group, he said, is trying to do everything possible to continue this rather difficult dialogue to save people's lives.

But Ukrainian authorities want the separatists to first lay down their weapons, many of which Kyiv says are supplied by Russia.

Guessing game

Kyiv is also bolstered by the separatist retreat after months of deadlock with the rebels.

But some analysts say Slovyansk was strategically important only if Russia planned a full-on invasion of Ukraine.

Stanislav Belkovsky, founder and director of the Moscow-based Institute of National Strategy, said such a scenario now seems less likely.

"But after [President] Vladimir Putin finally decided, in my opinion, not to invade Ukraine officially, and act only through separatists and through partisan troops, supporting them in different forms, so ... Slovyansk has lost its significance.  And, so all the forces are concentrated to Donetsk and Luhansk. And, President Poroshenko has already proclaimed that those cities would not be bombed,” said Belkovsky.

Political analysts agree a cease-fire is in both Ukraine and Russia's interest, though Moscow wants a prolonged one that gives it more leverage.

But many agree if a cease-fire is not achieved soon, there is a higher risk Russia may get involved more directly with its military to prevent the rebellion from collapsing.

Defense analyst Pavel Felgengauer is a columnist with Moscow's Novaya Gazeta newspaper. He said Putin could decide to act before being hampered by bad weather and troop rotations.

“So right now, beginning from the 13th, 14th of July till most likely mid-September, [is] the most dangerous time when Russia has the capability to go in and only needs a political decision to do so,” said the analyst.

Felgengauer added that Russia could choose to conduct air force overflights of Ukraine's Donbas region (reference to Ukraine’s industrial east) to warn Kyiv off further action against the rebels.

"Because without air support, it is clear that even the introduction of heavy weapons cannot keep the military balance right now. So, that is the last step before actually going in full force with a peace-keeping operation in Donbas, it is the introduction of [the] Russian air force. I think that is right now [in] the cards, though maybe not immediately, likely next week,” said Felgengauer.

But such aggressive military maneuvers would raise calls for further sanctions against Russia, which are already pushing its economy into a likely recession.

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Comment Sorting
by: Aleksandr Davityan
July 09, 2014 4:41 PM
Why Europe threatening sanctions against Russia??? why??? because Russia fight against fascism and genocide that Ukrainian terrorists headed by Poroshenko destroys people in Lugansk and Donesk only because these people dont want to join the European Union???? Where is Europe democracy, why Europe support people massacres, where is rightness, justice. Russia should seek help from China, Iran and other powers which against fascism, because europe support fascism.
In Response

by: Maria Thomas from: Colorado U.S.
July 10, 2014 1:49 AM
Erope and the U.S. especially lost their moral compass awhile back, its all about the money now. Democracy was an ideal, now it is just a buzz word to camoflauge the games they play to subjugate and economically exploit peoples. The fascist movements are gaining ground all over Europe because of N. African and ME immigration and high unemployment, personally, I think the fascist groups now have enough membership and pull in some places that government leaders are afraid to stand up to them. That is there mistake, Russia is 100% in the right on this whole situtation in Ukraine, the sanctions are not meant to get Russia to change her position, rather they are being implimented with the hopes of destroying Russian economy and powerbase.

by: lasisi idris from: ghana
July 09, 2014 6:18 AM
who & who is the evil on dis earth & can we really no the position of usa who should usa support is it d rebble in syria dat ar battling to topple a govt or the reble in ukrain dat fighting autonomy rather than toppling the govt is american being hypocrite or what

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 09, 2014 1:04 AM
This Soviet KGB Nutcase Putin knows that his strategy is BS! He armed people in another nation, to kill the citizens in that nation, now he is going to have to pay, and pay dearly! Yep, the minority Russians in Ukraine were oppressed, but they sought to not be Ukrainian, or become part of Ukrainian society. So who's the blame? If I seek citizenship in another country, wouldn't I swear to become part of their society! That's what you do when you swear to get the citizenship of any nation!!!!!!

But people like the totally insane Meanbill thinks it is best to arm people to kill people, because you looked at me funny!

by: meanbill from: USA
July 08, 2014 6:21 PM
THE WISE MAN said it;.. "Know your enemy, and know yourself, and you can win a hundred battles without losing a single man." (from the book) "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu.... (southeastern Ukraine hasn't any strategic importance for Russia to want, but the cries of the people, may awake an angry Russian bear?)

The US, EU, and NATO countries haven't a clue on what Russia will, or won't do?.... (Like always), the US and NATO Intelligence Services, haven't the intelligence to figure out anything on what Russia plans to do..... (But one can only guess what happens), when foolish people keep poking a sleeping bear, and when that bear awakens, what mood will that bear be in?..... (Without any intelligent persons telling us, we'll soon find out on our own, won't we?)
In Response

by: john from: afrca
July 09, 2014 12:14 PM
all u crap surport of russia to invade unkraine , i am shame of u all , do u think that russia would get victory over this ???? what do u think they would get if not failurs, every time planing on how to give out arms to destabilise a peacefull nation , u think thy would go free, never they would not
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 09, 2014 7:36 AM
"If you plant your corn early, then it will grow early." Old farmer's proverb.

"If you piss in the wind, you will get wet." Old redneck's proverb.

"If you build it, they will come." Old Kevin Costner's proverb. hehe

So many proverbs, so many idiots! Wolf, forest? HA!! Little Red Riding hood was an American! The wolf was a child molesting Russian! hehe

Oh what big teeth you have Mr Putin.......
How did you know it was me, did the Ukrainians tell you?........
No, it's because wolves smell cleaner than Russians!
That's not true little girl, I had a bath...ummmm.....let me think....ummmmm......what year is this?
In Response

by: Mark from: USA
July 09, 2014 7:27 AM
@ 1worldnow - So, which nation is the greatest? It's amazing how you love yourself and your nation!
Russia didn't take Crimea from Ukraine because of imperial ambitions. It was the will of the people of Crimea who don't want nothing to do with fa$cist country any more.
Because you all support the Ukrainian fa$cism, they still beat on the streets and kill the people who don't support them. But wait, they will come to Europe with their ideas soon and may be in U.S. I don't think you all will be happy then. God sees everything.
In Response

by: Roman from: Belarus
July 09, 2014 2:11 AM
"if you are afraid of wolf, don't go to the forest"--it's russian proverb.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
July 09, 2014 1:28 AM
Did you just read that book? Stop quoting things by Sun Tzu!!! A book they still don't know who actually wrote it!!! They just gave him credit for it, moron! So Ukraine isn't important to Russia? They took Crimea from Ukraine. Why? For fun? Good for you to continually put down the greatest nation in history! Good for you! We don't mind, you can have that freedom in the USA! Carry you sorry self to Russia and spew anti-Russian comments. I'll send you some nice mittens for that luxury cell in Siberia!!! Russia isn't a sleeping bear (trying to reference the sleeping giant comment after Pearl), so zip your stupid lip! Do something constructive with your umemployed time, like fixing those wooden steps on your rusted and dilapidated trailer you are living in!

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