Since March of 2014 war has again raged on the footsteps of Europe, morphing progressively into a kind not witnessed continentally since the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, albeit far greater in scope, destruction and duration.
At the recent Munich Security Conference (MSC), Ukraine again featured prominently on the agenda. Specifically, fears from both Russian and western officials were voiced relating to the war spiraling out of control if left on its current trajectory.
Apart from the ritual “passing of the buck” relating to the war, and to whom or what blame for it must be assigned, the MSC should not be looked to for policy ramifications or breakthroughs; while Russian and Ukrainian officials met, the planned meeting with German and French opposite numbers (recreating the Normandy Format) was called-off by the French owing to “scheduling conflicts”.
One takeaway from Munich, although far from groundbreaking, was the divide between the United States, and Germany about outlook and strategy, although reassurances by Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other speakers were given to the Europeans.
In December, US President Donald Trump approved the first lethal arms transfers to Ukraine, not of the much-discussed Javelin fire and forget systems, but M107A1 (Barrett) anti-materiel rifles (neither of which, it should be noted are on the Ukrainian Army’s ‘shopping list’).
Conversely, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) caught many off-guard with his statement this weekend that sanctions against the Russian Federation should be eased in step with progress in implementing Minsk II, a proposal that would significantly undermine the sanctions regimes.
Since the abortive Minsk I and Minsk II Agreements of September 2014 and February 2015, a state described variously as a “ceasefire”, “conflict”, “crisis”, “frozen conflict” or most egregiously this weekend in Munich as an “insurgency” has been declared by academics, government officials and media pundits alike.
Despite the alterations in rhetoric, this state of affairs has remained unchanged in 2018. Attempts to categorize the violence in eastern Ukraine as anything other than what it truly is (war) are perplexing and logic defying. Ukraine is the black elephant in the room. Ukraine is the war on the footsteps of Europe.