MOSCOW – There are two possible futures for eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. One could be found under the framework of the Minsk peace process, the series of agreements cobbled together to defuse the showdown between Russia and Ukraine. Or the region could become the site of a “frozen conflict” of the sort found elsewhere in post-Soviet territory, with low-level skirmishes underscoring the ever-present risk of more serious bloodshed.
For the moment, the process has sunk into a stalemate. Finger pointing by both sides is likely to escalate as the European Union and the United States discuss whether or not to prolong sanctions on Russia. Moving the process forward will require a much more assertive approach by the West.
The decision about whether to lift sanctions should not be a difficult one. The condition for doing so has always been described as the “full implementation” of the Minsk agreement. And there are no signs that this will be accomplished by the summer, when the current round of sanctions is set to expire.
It should also be obvious that easing the sanctions would deprive the EU and the US of their leverage over the Kremlin – and their remaining credibility in Kyiv. Such a decision would almost certainly mean a continuation of the conflict, alternating between hot and cold phases.