Ukraine is gearing up for war amid ongoing peace talks to end the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists, writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.
Foreign Ministry representatives of Russia, Ukraine and France and Germany have been locked in talks in Berlin, despite a national holiday, which in Russia lasts until January 12.
But the outcome does not look hopeful.
So much so that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande have both cast doubt on whether they will join Russia and Ukraine at a summit scheduled to start on January 15, 2015, in Kazakhstan.
Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande say a new summit would be pointless unless ‘real progress’ is made in implementing the Minsk peace accord.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been busy beefing up his country’s armed forces, and said on January 5, he was ‘convinced that 2015 will be the year of our victory’ as he handed over fighter jets, howitzers and other sophisticated weaponry at a military installation in the north of Ukraine.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin finds that the sanctions regime against his country have, on the whole, been helpful in cementing his regime.
The overriding aim of the sanctions was to reverse unacceptable actions, such as the annexation of Crimea, and to deter further aggression, such as the proxy war in Donbass and the destabilisation of the Kiev government. These objectives have clearly not been reached.
What has been achieved instead, over and above reduced trade and economic growth, is a transformation of the political landscape that bodes ill for future relations between Russia and the West.
* Russia has been completely alienated and may no longer be relied upon to serve as a trusted partner in conflicts where Russian participation is essential, ranging from Syria and ISIS to the nuclear ambitions of Teheran. Mr Putin has made this point very clear.
* The Russian population has rallied around its leader, reversing a trend of declining popularity for Mr Putin and ensuring that he will remain in power for a long time to come. A deepening recession may be blamed on sanctions rather than on domestic politics.
* Whatever remained of Russian liberals and liberalism has been ground into dust, as hardliners take over and as the rationale for the wager on security and remilitarisation is being vindicated.
* Moscow has been forced into the arms of Beijing, in a way that may come to be deeply regretted by the Pentagon. The price for Chinese help will have to be paid in delivery of hi-tech weapons that Moscow has hitherto been reluctant to sell.
Western governments may have viewed sanctions against Russia as a way of showing great moral resolve. But the Kremlin was not impressed. And now the bills are coming due.