Poroshenko Escalates Rhetoric, Promises to Retake Donbass

January 19, 2015
 

News
At a state-sanctioned political rally on Sunday (Jan 18) in Kyiv’s Independence Square, President Poroshenko told a crowd of several thousand people that Ukraine “won’t give up a single scrap of land” to pro-Russian separatists, Reuters reported. The northern outskirts of Donetsk saw intense shelling over the weekend as the Ukrainian military launched a counter-offensive to retake areas around Donetsk Airport, which separatist forces had captured last week in a major escalation not only of the fighting itself, but also the war-like rhetoric on both sides. Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zaxarchenko last week threatened attacks to expand the zone of separatist-controlled territory further to the north and west, in direct violation of the September Minsk ceasefire deal, while Poroshenko military advisor Yuriy Biriukov wrote on social media on Sunday that “we will show them how much we can smash their [the separatists’] teeth in.” Further to the east, Pro-Russian forces were reported to be shelling government-held territory in northern Lugansk province, notably the town of Schastya. Meanwhile, Russian media reported that Poroshenko rejected a de-escalation plan from Russian President Putin that called for a pullback of high-caliber artillery from the conflict zone by both sides.   

Commentary
We suppose that Poroshenko is reacting forcefully to the recent separatist offensive because he no longer fears a full-scale Russian military intervention of the type that occurred in late August that would turn the tide of the fighting in the separatists’ favor. Still, the aggressive rhetoric now being used by Kyiv is unlikely to go over well in the major European capitals, which are keen to see an end to the Eastern Ukrainian bloodshed, and going forward, Ukraine is going to be critically dependent on the EU’s goodwill and financial support. Poroshenko should also be careful what he wishes for, as a recapture of all the occupied Donbass territories would present Kyiv with enormous expenses and new political problems. The peace process, including a summit meeting in Kazakhstan that would include the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, now looks to be on hold indefinitely until the current round of fighting plays out. We believe that the wisest option for Ukraine militarily is to focus on defending the Minsk ceasefire line without launching new offensives, as this strategy is most likely to preserve the West’s goodwill and maximize the chances that IMF and other international economic assistance will be delivered sooner rather than later.


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