Ukraine Crisis Update: November 11, 2015

Russian-backed separatist forces renewed coordinated offensive operations across the front line in eastern Ukraine on November 7. This escalation follows a two-month operational pause that coincided with the start of the Russian intervention in Syria. Both the separatist ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR) and the Ukrainian military reported the completion of the withdrawal of light artillery from the front line in the days leading up to the recent clashes. An agreement to withdraw light weapons and tanks served as the main focus of the September 1 renewed ceasefire. The decision to violate this ceasefire thus reaffirms the intent of Russia and its separatist proxies to continue destabilizing Ukraine through military aggression despite cyclical efforts to feign de-escalation. The Kremlin may be driving the most recent round of violence in response to indications that the European Union planned on extending sanctions against Russia beyond January 2016 during a summit later this year. Russia remains focused on its military campaign in Syria and it is not clear whether this escalation in Ukraine will lead to the first major offensive maneuvers to seize territory in Ukraine since February 2015. The resumption of hostilities will nevertheless fuel further popular dissatisfaction with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko faces mounting pressure from his political opponents since a draft constitutional amendment acknowledging the “special status” of separatist-held eastern Ukraine provoked a deadly riot in Kyiv on August 31. The resumption of offensive operations by the Russian-backed separatists also follows nationwide local elections on October 25, which saw major victories in southern and eastern Ukraine for powerful oligarchs opposed to Poroshenko and politicians linked to the former Russian-backed regime. Russia likely seeks to use military force to reapply pressure on Poroshenko and force him to make unpopular concessions which further weaken his authority.