In Ukraine’s restive east, artillery explosions ring out and international monitors record dozens of shell bursts every evening. The ceasefire between Kiev and the Russian-backed separatists is fraying badly, The Financial Times reports:
Signs of a flare-up in fighting began in July and Ukraine and its western allies are observing a more worrying development: a build-up of conventional Russian forces in Crimea and along the countries’ shared border.
“Preparations for conventional conflict between Russia and Ukraine are accelerating, and the likelihood of open war is increasing rapidly,” the Institute for the Study of War, a US think-tank, wrote in a report last Thursday.
“These are very, very clear signals from Russia that say they are willing to escalate and to push boundaries,” says Kathleen Weinberger, a Russia and Ukraine expert at the ISW. “We’re seeing reports of big military convoys being sent into the separatist areas, Russian troops being sent to the border and a lot more naval equipment in the Black Sea — including some of their most advanced subs, which have quite powerful ground attack cruise missiles.”
But, Ms Weinberger adds: “A lot of this is still unknown. Russia is showing us a very overt and threatening 20 per cent but leaving 80 per cent of what they’re doing unclear.”
“I think we’re about to see a controlled escalation all along the line of contact — higher shelling and much more violence and fighting,” says Alex Kokcharov, country risk analyst at IHS Markit. “Politically, if the separatists take more territory, that would play out badly for Russia in negotiations, but provoking Ukraine into hostilities without necessarily doing that might work to their advantage . . . they want to make Kiev into an untrustworthy partner and erode support for it in the west.”