As the conflict in eastern Ukraine entered its sixth year, a sustainable settlement between Kiev and the separatists seems far from being achieved amid renewed efforts to revive a cease-fire. However, in terms of conflicting interests, the gap between the parties is still too wide to reconcile.
Last week, the German and French foreign ministers went to Ukraine to lend support to new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and aid further reforms. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Zelensky also agreed on the need for a "full implementation" of the current peace agreements, as reported by Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). Zelenskiy had taken the oath of office as Ukraine's new president last month, saying his first task was to achieve a cease-fire, adding that dialogue could only happen after the return of Ukrainian territory and prisoners of war. In his inauguration speech, he talked about the need to win over the hearts and minds of people in separatist areas. Earlier, he called for the international community to threaten Russia with more sanctions, amid fears of Russia trying to annex the Donbass region.
Ties between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine says Russia then engineered quasi-separatist uprisings, which later escalated into a full-scale conflict. Russia denies doing so. Two so-called "People's Republics" have formed in the Donetsk and Luhansk industrial regions of eastern Ukraine, also known as Donbass.
The February 2015 Minsk Agreements, agreed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, set out the necessary steps to stop violence against civilians in eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin represented the separatists at peace talks with Merkel in 2015 in neutral Belarus, resulting in a package of peace agreements known as the Minsk II accords, however, the U.N. has warned that the agreements have remained "largely unimplemented."
The mediating efforts between European countries, Ukraine and Russia have led to no significant improvement in ending the years-long pro-Russian separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. The peace talks could not produce a breakthrough over issues relating to the settlement of the Ukraine crisis. In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order simplifying the procedure for obtaining a Russian passport for residents of separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, which ramped up the already heightened tensions in the area.
Civilians in conflict-hit areas continue to suffer from a humanitarian crisis that reveals the ineffectiveness of the series of international agreements to restore peace. According to the U.N., more than 3,300 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014, with many of the 3.5 million civilians needing humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2019.