The situation in Ukraine remains fluid, tense, and poised for a further escalation in violence that directly challenges the weaknesses of the Ukrainian state in the approach to the Presidential Elections on 25th May. The past eight days has seen international diplomatic efforts at conflict resolution in Geneva almost immediately quashed by uprising in the principally Russian-speaking Donetsk region and the north-eastern City of Kharkiv.
According to AKE’s John Drake, The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission has reported that the whole of Slovyansk city was, on the 22nd April, under the control of militant groups. The area is the centre of a pro-Russian militant movement against the Ukrainian authorities.
Although the statement came after interim President Oleksandr Turchynov called for a renewed ‘anti-terror operation’ in the region, the control of the town by pro-Russian forces will make such action perilous as it may further escalate tensions with Russia. Indeed, on 23rd April the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavarov, drawing comparisons to the 2008 war in South Ossetia (Georgia) stated that Russia will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked.
Furthermore, on the 17th April, the parliament of Transnistria sent official appeals to Russia, the UN and the OSCE, appealing for the recognition of Transnistria’s independence. The territory is a de facto independent Moldovan breakaway area that lies on the border between Moldova and Ukraine. Russian peacekeepers remain in Transnistria and both Ukrainian and Moldovan authorities have repeatedly issued statements warning of Russian provocations in the breakaway province.
While the violence continues unabated in Eastern Ukraine and Trasnistria appears set on a path similar to that taken recently by Crimea, there is little prospect of a durable political resolution in the near future given Russia’s likely strategic short-term goal of disrupting the May 25th elections.
The crisis is an acute illustration of the challenges countries on Russia’s periphery face in trying to reconcile socio-economic and ethnic divisions and pursuing further ties with the West. Ukraine’s political and economic importance should ensure that Russia shows relative restraint before considering action outside of its annexation of Crimea.
What is equally clear, however, is that the West’s response, despite the implementation of sanctions, is limited to the extent to which it is prepared to sacrifice its political and economic links with Russia. The crisis in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea is fluid, making the operating environment for organisations challenging. It is essential that companies are equipped with effective situational awareness and mitigation strategies to ensure the safety and security of their assets and employees.