Moscow keeps denying that the ongoing events Donbas are in fact Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, not the so-called conflict between Kyiv on one side and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the other. The Russian authorities have been trying to evade responsibility for the deaths and maimed lives of tens of thousands of Ukrainians and all destroyed and looted territories. But all secrets eventually come to light, or, as they say in Russia, no matter how long the rope is, there’s an end to it.
According to the estimates of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the total number of casualties as of January 31, 2021, amounted to some 42,000-44,000, of whom at least 13,100-13,300 were killed and another 29,500-33,500 wounded. Civilians account for 25-26% of the total number of dead and wounded. According to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, about 1.58 million residents of Crimea and Donbas were forced to flee their homes as internally displaced persons. Today, 43,700 square meters of Ukrainian lands in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, remain occupied, accounting for 7.2% of Ukraine’s territory.
Russia signed the Minsk agreements as a party to the conflict, not a mediator. The Minsk peace process was launched within the framework of the Geneva Conventions as ceasefire negotiations between the parties. Moscow tried to blame Russian occupation administrations in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions but these temporarily occupied areas are not parties to the said conventions. While denying the fact of armed aggression against Ukraine, Russia cannot deny its influence on its proxy forces.
The Russian Federation remains the source of military prowess of the self-proclaimed “LPR/DPR.” Despite formal statements by Russian government officials, Moscow has been supplying to the occupied areas everything required to keep the conflict simmering. Suffice it to recall how 298 passengers of flight MH17, including 80 children, became victims of a terrorist attack on July 17, 2014, when a passenger jet operated by Malaysian Airlines was shot down by the Russian military who manned a deadly Buk air defense missile system deployed to the occupied territory of Donbas from the Russian territory.
This is not only about Ukraine, but also about Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Russia surrounded itself with a belt of instability in order to maintain control over the post-Soviet space and prevent the former republics from joining Euro-Atlantic organizations. Moscow employs the strategy of “multiple conflicts” in order to move away the boundaries of confrontation with the global centers of power. The Russian Federation acts covertly and uses, besides its regular army, the mercenaries employed by private military companies. For example, the militants with the Wagner PMC, Cossacks, Moran Security Group, E.N.O.T. CORP, RSB-Group, Antiterror, Center R, and others have been heavily involved in Donbas hostilities. The mercenaries have actually become a lever of Russia’s concealed military influence on the region, in particular, on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the international community has no doubts about the role Russia plays in Donbas and the entire post-Soviet space. On December 30, 2020, PACE adopted a resolution recognizing Russia as a party to the Minsk agreements and demanding that the Russian authorities fully implement the accords, cease military intervention and support for illegal armed groups in eastern Ukraine, and revoke the illegal annexation of Crimea. Moscow has so far ignored the demands of the international community, but it won’t manage to keep doing so forever.