Ukraine Crisis Update: December 14, 2015

Russian-backed separatists intensified attacks along multiple frontline positions in Ukraine in early December 2015, demonstrating Moscow’s intent to continue destabilizing Ukraine after a two-month operational pause that coincided with the launch of Russian operations in Syria. Russia’s proxies in Ukraine increasingly launched attacks using heavy weapons on major flashpoints in Donetsk Oblast since fighting resumed in November while separatists in neighboring Luhansk Oblast remain less active. Separatist offensive operations have not reached the intensity or breadth witnessed in the summer of 2015, when heavy weapons attacks and clashes along the frontline occurred frequently, making a separatist maneuver to seize strategic terrain unlikely in the immediate term. Russia and the separatists condemned Ukraine’s deployment into two unclaimed villages within a demilitarized zone near the strategic port city of Mariupol as an aggressive provocation, however, possibly signaling further intent to escalate. The Kremlin aims to neutralize the West’s ability to use sanctions to deter Russian military aggression in Ukraine by presenting itself as a necessary partner against ISIS. The surprise postponement of the EU’s decision to extend sanctions against Russia on December 9 marks an early dividend in the Kremlin’s efforts to fracture transatlantic opposition to its continued operations in Ukraine. Tandem campaigns to partner with the West against ISIS and project aggression in Ukraine advance President Vladimir Putin’s objective to set the rules of engagement for a multipolar international order wherein Russia has full freedom of action in its historical sphere of influence.