Almost ever since the Ukrainians and Russians agreed to a cease fire over the weekend, media outlets around the world have reported it being “at risk of collapsing.” There’s a good reason for that — it’s because the fire never ceased in the first place. Today, for example, the Russian-backed rebels claimed to have seized Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, even as a deadline approaches for blah blah blah blah blah:
Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine claimed Tuesday to have taken the key transportation hub of Debaltseve as both parties faced a deadline to start pulling back heavy weapons from the front line.
Fierce fighting on Tuesday appeared to be focused on Debaltseve, a government-held town surrounded by rebel forces that both sides claim to be on their side of the cease-fire line. The issue was not resolved under a cease-fire agreement negotiated last week by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.
Separatist leaders said in remarks carried by the rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency on Tuesday afternoon that their forces have pushed the Ukrainian army out of Debaltseve, gaining control over most of the town.
OCSE monitors have been trying to get into Debaltseve and to press the cease-fire, but the pro-Russian rebels won’t allow them:
So, how has that withdrawal of heavy weapons been going, anyway? Associated Press reporters see the weapons going the opposite direction:
That fireball that Sky New saw this morning? It’s not exactly a flame for beating swords into plowshares, either:
Actually, it was a shell hitting an oil pipeline near Debaltseve. CNN asks its reporter on the scene, Nick Paton Walsh, whether one can call this a cease-fire if soldiers are dying, territory is being seized, and the guns are still, er, firing:
Five more Ukrainian service members have been killed in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday — another sign that the truce between the government and pro-Russian separatists is falling apart.
The news comes three days into a ceasefire between Ukrainian forces and the separatists in eastern Ukraine. But clearly, the fire has not ceased.
On Monday, Ukrainian defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko reported five deaths from the previous day and at least 129 violations of the ceasefire since it went into effect at midnight Saturday.
And there are more signs that the international efforts to stop the bloodshed are failing.
So … the answer is no. The cease-fire isn’t at risk of collapsing; it never got to its feet in the first place. Russia and its allied rebels have no intention of stopping their war until Russia owns or at least controls the entire Donbas, along with Mariupol and its strategic passage to Crimea. (Not surprisingly, the cease-fire is a myth in Mariupol too.) Vladimir Putin is convinced that the West won’t put much effort into saving Ukraine, or at least its territorial integrity in relation to its ethnic-Russian east.
Putin’s paid a steep economic price for his adventurism, but Putin seems willing to pay that in the short run against a bet that the EU and US won’t stick to its sanctions in the long run. That may not be a very good bet — it’s easier to keep sanctions in place than to remove them — but it now seems doubtful that Putin will pay any other price for his war and land grab.
Update: Via Jeryl Bier, a concise response to global media about the term “cease fire”: