The Ukraine situation is oddly stable. There has been no change in the line of contact between Ukrainian and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. There was destruction of property, but few casualties and no changes in the trace of the line of contact.
The latest significant event was the prisoner exchange on 27 December in which 74 Ukrainians were swapped for some 235 eastern Ukrainian rebels. Ukraine was supposed to have transferred 306 prisoners, but the rest reportedly decided to remain in Ukraine. The exchange occurred without incident.
About 19 December, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission reported a 35% surge in ceasefire violations in a week. The observer group reported 16,000 violations in the week ending 17 December. They described the violations as the worst since last February.
The map below is the daily situation map produced for Ukraine’s national defense and security council and posted to the web. It shows three exchanges of fire on 28 December. During the Christmas weekend, a truce was in effect. The daily situation maps showed no exchanges of fire.
Fighting surges whenever a new diplomatic initiative emerges, sanctions against Russia are up for renewal or when Russia, the US or Ukraine take some action.
The last surge in fighting began the day after the departure on 19 December of Russian military officers from the Joint Coordination and Control Center that monitors the ceasefire. Russian officers were ordered to leave because of the supposedly “tense moral and psychological situation” and “disrespectful attitude of Ukrainian servicemen.”
The next surge is due at any time because the US announced on 22 December that it would provide Ukraine with enhanced defensive capabilities. This will spark another surge in ceasefire violations and a surge in Russian support to the separatists in order to main the balance of forces. The sale of defensive US made anti-tank weapons shouldn’t destabilize much, but they provide a boost in morale to the Ukrainians.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko remains committed to recovering the separatist region, known as the Donbass, and Crimea. Russian President Putin is equally determined to maintain the status quo. More shelling is certain, but the line of contact is not likely to change.
The people of Donbass and Crimea overwhelmingly want to be part of Russia, not Ukraine.