It is a silence that Donbass has not known for six years: on August 7, 8 and 9, the OSCE observation mission, responsible for monitoring the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, did not report a single shot or explosion along a front line of more than 400 kilometers. It’s a first “Since the mission began systematic data collection” in 2015, notes the organization in its daily report. And a consequence of a new ceasefire launched on July 27 which, without succeeding in completely silencing the guns, reduced the clashes to a level rarely seen.
→ MAINTENANCE. “I do not see Moscow renouncing the Donbass”
Ceasefires have come and gone in Eastern Ukraine since the February 2015 signing of the Minsk Agreements. These had put an end to the most violent phase of a conflict that began ten months earlier between the Ukrainian army and separatist groups under Russian supervision. But the guns have never been silent since. Back-to-school, Christmas, or “bread” cease-fire – at harvest time – they all had the same fate: a few days of calm before the resumption of skirmishes and artillery duels.
However, it is now two weeks that the Ukrainian army has suffered no loss, welcomed on August 10 the Secretary of the Security Council of Ukraine Alexeï Danilov, while conceding isolated shootings and bombardments. “It is really the length of the ceasefire that is unusual, and unprecedented”, notes Oleksiy Matsouka, editor-in-chief of “Novosti Donbassa”, a site specializing in regional news. Since the start of the year, 39 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed.
Respite for the civilian population
Local populations suffering from the conflict and restrictions linked to the coronavirus epidemic are experiencing this lull as a « respiration », explains Florence Gillette, head of the Red Cross delegation in Ukraine. “Civilians live usually with the daily noise of the exchange of fire, which creates significant and permanent stress ”, she adds.
During the first three months of 2020, bombings and mine blasts killed at least four civilians and injured more than thirty on both sides of the front line. Measures to combat the coronavirus epidemic have resulted in the closure of crossing points along the front line, further isolating often elderly and fragile populations.
While most of the soldiers are “Tired and eager to go home”, not all understand “The logic of the cease-fire”, thinks Konstantin Mashovets, a Ukrainian activist close to the army. In the country, a controversy has thus swelled in recent weeks around the ban on responding to fire from the separatist side. This would leave the army ” defenseless “the opposition rebelled, forcing the authorities to ensure that Ukrainian troops could respond well in the event of an attack.
The unusual but fragile maintenance of the cease-fire could be explained by a telephone conversation between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin the day before the agreement entered into force: “They came to an agreement, and Putin gave the order”, estimates Oleksiy Matsouka.
Ultimately, the hope is that of a relaunch of peace negotiations, still struggling since the so-called “Normandy format” summit (between Ukraine, France, Russia and Germany) which was held in Paris in December 2019. For that to happen, the ceasefire will have to last, something that few in Kiev dare to predict.