21 Nov 2014

Ukraine one year on: prepare for a cold diplomatic winter

This week marks the first anniversary of the protests which eventually unseated Ukraine’s president, the first of a series of related and tumultuous events, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the shooting down of a civilian airliner killing all 298 aboard and a civil war which has left over 4,300 people dead and over 9,000 injured.

More grim statistics: an average of 13 people a day are still dying, in spite of the ceasefire agreement signed on 5 September.

Only 2 per cent of Ukraine is controlled by rebels, though the economy of the fifth biggest country on the European continent is set to shrink by 10 per cent this year; and perhaps only the onset of winter will reduce the temperature of this simmering conflict.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko takes part in a commemoration ceremony at the site where anti-Yanukovich protesters were killed during clashes in Kiev

21 November 2014: Ukraine’s President Poroshenko takes part in a commemoration ceremony in Kiev

We have learnt much in this last grim year. Above all, that Russia has embarked on a very different path to the one that was hoped for after the Soviet Union collapsed. Given that Vladimir Putin is fairly young and fit and very much in charge, it is a change of course which could last potentially decades into the future.

This parting of the ways over Ukraine has not, as far as we know, worsened diplomatic relations over other major foreign policy issues, such as Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear programme – but it certainly hasn’t helped and it is still early days.

Calling this a new cold war is overstating the extent of the breakdown, but it is deeply depressing nonetheless. In Ukraine the government has no hope of defeating the Russian-backed militia. Kiev could run out of money in 2016 and is in danger of presiding over a failed state. Sanctions against Russia, however warranted, may well encourage Moscow to hunker down and defy the west with yet more demonstrations of Russian strength.

So the friends and relatives of Ukrainian protesters who died in the name of freedom might well ask what has been achieved. Russia is engaged in a barely disguised war in its traditional near abroad. And in diplomatic terms, we are set for the coldest winter in over two decades.

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