Russia’s infamous annexation of Crimea in 2014 is well known and widely discussed. It was the story of the Russian Bear reclaiming its grip on the strategic peninsula it had once treasured. This year Moscow finished building a bridge connecting Crimea with mainland Russia, essentially ending any doubt, if there ever was any, as to who was now the master of this arena.
But just a few dozen miles to the north-east, things are still far from certain. In the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbass, which is made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk districts, a conflict still rages on. Despite numerous ceasefires, summits and agreements, artillery and gunfire continue to be exchanged on the frontline now known as the "contact line". It is a daily routine of tit-for-tat skirmishes in the trenches, with a Ukrainian or pro-Russian soldier being killed every few days.
The war pits the Ukrainian military against pro-Russian separatists and irregular Russian troops, who are fighting for the right to join Russia proper at a later date. Currently, the Donetsk and Luhansk districts are too distinct, separatist states, known as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. They are vassal states of Moscow in all but name, and reside in a constant state of low-level warfare; something which makes life difficult for its citizens.
Ukraine itself is split politically, culturally and ethnically. It is possible to draw a line from the north-east of the country to the south-west of the country in order to show this divide. Those residing in the north-west are overwhelmingly Ukrainian and loyal to Kiev, whilst those residing in the south-east are mainly Russian or are Slavs with pro-Russian sympathies who usually speak Russian as a first or second language.
Last week the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko was assassinated in a café, with several others being injured. Zakharchenko’s death marks yet another dark turn in the so-called "frozen conflict". Many have speculated that Ukraine’s special forces or intelligence services were behind the assassination, which is a credible theory. Others experts have claimed that Russia, annoyed by continuing political instability in Donetsk, carried out the deed. It may also be possible that Putin needs an excuse to turn this cold war hot, and so conducted a false flag attack to initiate such action. This may sound completely insane, but modern intelligence services are no strangers to such activities.
The West has poured billions of dollars into Ukraine’s government, in an effort to push back against Russia’s expansion westwards. George Soros, Angela Merkel and even Donald Trump have shown support for Kiev, something which results in western made weapons, western trained advisors and Western intelligence agencies pouring into the country. This whole geopolitical situation is one of the reasons for the muh Russia narrative currently consuming the Washington establishment.
The reality though is that the West’s chessboard moves against Russia’s military activities in Ukraine will probably result in no victory – and that’s a good thing. The reason I say this is because you will never be able to force the ethnically Russian/Slavic pro-Russian southeastern side of Ukraine to become part of the west. It is simply impossible; their hearts lie in the east as they have always.
The likely conclusion of the conflict will be Russia expanding its borders all the way to the Dnieper River or as far as the Odessa region, which borders Moldova and Romania. Currently, Crimea has much of its electrical and water supply coming from power stations and reservoirs in the Ukrainian-held territory, something which is an unsustainable situation. Even with the newly built road bridge from mainland Russia, Crimea is still isolated to a large degree, and it is difficult to see how Putin will tolerate this situation in the long term.
The only reason there have not been any prolonged, major offensives in Ukraine since 2015 is because Russia has been preoccupied with its military campaign in Syria. As that conflicts winds down, expect a renewed focus on the European eastern front, which will put more pressure on President Trump to "do something" in order to stave off false accusations of him being a puppet of Moscow.
As with all modern conflicts, there are many hidden layers which complicate this situation and there is no end in sight to this forgotten war. The one thing everyone must do is lobby their national politicians not to intervene in any future escalation if such an event occurs. The west is already facing demographic problems, and the last thing we need is a full on war with white, Christian Russia. If anything, a renewed Russian assertiveness would force the west to get its own affairs in order, something which is sorely needed.