After witnessing nearly eight years of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine, one would think that the international community would be clear about what type of war is going on in the Donbass region and who is responsible for it. France and Germany’s recent bizarre whataboutism attempts, spurred by a Ukrainian drone strike last week, have unfairly left Moscow out of the woods for the conflict it keeps alive.
For years the Kremlin has waged a hybrid war against the United States and its partners, ranging from electoral interference and assassinate dissidents live in the west to refuel secessionist movements and the recent energy crisis in Europe. Russia’s war against Ukraine is the backbone of this campaign, and Washington’s efforts to counter Moscow will be seriously weakened if its partners are not on the same page.
On October 26, Russian-backed fighters used artillery to fire at Ukrainian military positions near Hranitne, one of several violations of the Minsk II ceasefire, killing one soldier and injuring another . In accordance with the protocol established by the peace process, Ukrainian forces used diplomatic channels to call for a ceasefire.
As the guns continued to block Kiev’s forces, Ukraine deployed a recently purchased Turkish-made Bayraktar unmanned aerial combat vehicle to the Ukrainian side of the front line, launching a drone strike on one of the artillery positions – it worked and the bombardment ended without further casualties. Ukrainian forces even quickly posted pictures of the attack on Facebook and explained the operation.
France sentenced the drone strike, saying she was “concerned” about the deployment of Bayraktar and “the increasingly frequent use of heavy weapons” in violation of the ceasefire. Germany criticized the fact that “all parties use drones, which, according to the Minsk agreement, are reserved for the OSCE alone.” Germany too cited the 2014 Minsk memorandum in which all parties agreed not to use “foreign drones”.
Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk expressed his indignation and called on Germany to redouble its efforts as a mediator, instead of “worrying” about it, and “putting Moscow in its place”.
Ukrainian troops were wounded and killed, followed protocol using channels mandated to demand an end to the attack, and ultimately retaliated with their own weapons when Russian-backed forces refused to cease fire. It is deeply strange that France and Germany reacted the way they did, especially given the grave disparity and restraint shown by Ukrainian forces when provoked by those on the other side of the trenches.
Usually the Russian side attacks twice as much as the Ukrainian side. In September, Russian forces and Russian-backed militants attacked 207 times while Kiev forces retaliated 107 times. According to Nolan Peterson, who recently integrated Along the front lines, Ukrainian forces are reluctant to respond to such provocations for two main reasons: firing would expose their positions and give Moscow ammunition to continue to falsely portray them as the aggressors in this conflict that Russia unleashed in 2014 As Peterson reports, Ukrainian troops are often reluctant to gather in tight groups at the risk of inviting a Russian drone strike.
The sad reality on the ground is that not all ceasefires have stood and that the international peace process aimed at defusing the conflict has continued to fail. It’s not because Ukrainians are starving for war – it’s because the Kremlin intentionally kept the conflict alive, deploying its officers to lead its forces in the Donbass, supplying and funding them, and while using the front lines as a “final school” for its operators – especially snipers – to gain combat experience.
Moscow is doing this because every day that the conflict continues, it believes Ukraine will not be able to join NATO and integrate more closely with the rest of Europe. He gives Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin’s threat to roll back NATO West must deter aggression by tyrants better than it did in the last century BBC journalist leaves Russia after “unprecedented surveillance” MORE the opportunity to continue to assert that what was once known as “Near Abroad” is Russia’s sphere of influence, and that Ukrainians are only allowed to determine their own path as long as they brings them back to Moscow. In one recent controversy, Putin threatened to further divide their country.
Despite the well-documented situation on Ukraine’s front lines which shows how unilateral Moscow’s aggression against Kiev is, France and Germany responded to the Bayraktar incident by saying that both sides were at fault. There are few ways to justify such statements while acknowledging the same reality on the ground that those who experience it firsthand have witnessed.
Fortunately, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev has brought some common sense, stating in a declaration that he urges “Let’s be clear – the Russian-led side has repeatedly deployed howitzers and drones against Ukrainian forces… Official Russian rhetoric suggesting that Ukraine is making matters worse is not only misleading, but it serves to aggravate tensions. “
The reality is that despite all of Ukraine’s impressive progress in recent years – especially the continued modernization of a crumbling Soviet-era army out of necessity – Russian forces can still crush it if Putin chooses. Demonstrations of strong support from international partners are essential, such as when the United States supported Ukraine when the Kremlin massed its forces on its border this spring.
If France and Germany make these missteps because Paris can still hope for an agreement with Moscow or because Berlin is waking up threatens Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline remains to be seen. The Ukrainians know that when the Russian artillery kills its troops, the policy of the great powers takes a back seat to stop the firing.
Doug Klain is a program assistant at the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on twitter @DougKlain.