In Ukraine

Letter to The Guardian, published on February 7, 2017

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland asserts (First on the White House agenda: the collapse of the global order. Next, war?, February 4, 2017) that with his “swooning admirer” in the White House, Vladimir Putin “feels free to flex his muscles” and has launched an offensive in eastern Ukraine. As so often in recent coverage of Russia, the opposite is the case. Moscow has desperately tried to keep the Donbass conflict frozen, and has restrained the various militias from responding.

Ukrainian soldiers in an armoured personnel carrier in the streets of Avdiivka, Donetsk region of Ukraine (Markiian Lyseiko, EPA)

In recent weeks, we have watched with increasing alarm as Ukrainian forces have pushed forward into the demilitarised demarcation line in a “bite and hold” strategy. This was admitted by the Ukrainian deputy defence minister, Igor Pavlovsky, when he stated that “step by step … our boys have been advancing”. The rebel forces in the Donbass have nothing to gain by a renewed offensive, but in the end were forced to respond.

It is worrying that the Guardian seems to have an enthusiasm for demonising Putin and discrediting the present Russian government. This only helps to undermine the “liberal international order”, which seems unable to uphold the values that it proclaims and which now generates conflict, rather than seeking negotiated solutions.

Freedland is right in one thing, though: the stakes could not be higher and war is on the horizon. In these circumstances, balance and responsibility are essential.

Professor Richard Sakwa
School of politics and international relations, University of Kent

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