Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 15 February 2021
Kremlin Again Plays Donbas Card as Ukrainian Troops Die in Blast
Ukrainian service personnel again died on the Donbas frontline despite the truce being in force. At the same time, many signs are that the government in Moscow might in the future push harder for its narrative of “serving the Russian-speaking population in southeastern Ukraine.” Six years have passed since the so-called Minsk agreements were inked, and Russia still has not attained its strategic goal of ending the conflict to formally give the occupied part of Donbas back to Kyiv while enjoying broad autonomy in the region infiltrated by its proxies, a move that might impede Ukraine’s pro-Western course.
The three service personnel died on February 14 when an unknown device exploded near the town of Novoluhanske, northeast of the occupied Donetsk. According to the command of the operational-tactical group Sever, the soldiers were killed while they were on their way to take positions, marking another incident on the frontline. Earlier this month, separatists and the Russian military intensified efforts to mine the area near the Ukrainian positions, also with prohibited POM-2 anti-personnel fragmentation mines. The shelling on the frontline has not been much intense after the truce was declared on July 27, 2020. Six years have passed since the inking of the Minsk agreements. On February 11, Special Representative of the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) Ambassador Heidi Grau told a UN Security Council meeting on the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Minsk agreements that peace talks on Donbas had stalled. While visiting Ukrainian troops in Donbas later that day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted on putting the Minsk agreements into practice. In 2018, 121 servicemen were killed and 799 were wounded in Donbas. In 2019, 100 were killed while 507 were injured. In 2020, the war claimed the lives of 50 service personnel while injuring 338, Zelensky has prided himself on de-escalating tensions in Donbas, one of his top promises made at the election campaign. “We will never turn our backs on Donbas, no matter what,” Vladimir Putin told a meeting with editors-in-chief of Russian media outlets, fragments of which were aired by the Russian state broadcaster. The Kremlin claims that incorporating Donbas is not on the agenda yet it is worth noting that this question arose anyway. Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of the Kremlin’s flagship television network RT, asked Putin at the same meeting whether the time had come for “the Russian summer” after what was known as “the Russian spring” – as Russian propaganda outlets named anti-government rallies that broke out in southern and eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014 as a prelude to the Russian annexation of Crimea and its occupation of one-third of Donbas region.
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