Ukraine under observation: Where Do The Rebels Go This Winter?

Winter is coming, the rebels are advancing to South-Eastern Ukraine, the Russian Federation is supplying them with weapons, military vehicles and troops…What do we get if we connect the dots?

On September 5 with more than 2600 people dead the Ukrainian Government and the pro-Russian rebels agreed to sign ceasefire brokered by OSCE which was warmly welcomed by the international community including Putin himself. But right before the ceasefire the rebels had made a rather unexpected move attacking cities of Mariupol and Novoazovsk situated on the South of the Donetsk region. This gives a rise to a question about a motive behind this action.  Some argue that given the rebels had been considerably losing their positions in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions they decided to make a tactical move and advance to the South whereby opening a new front. At first glance, the above explanation appears to be fairly logical. However if one looked at the map of Ukraine closely enough one would notice a very interesting fact.

Map of Ukraine : Sourced by author.

Map of Ukraine : Sourced by author.

But let us go back in time when Crimea, the peninsula in the Black sea was annexed by the Russian Federation. In the article ‘The dream of the imperialist’ I mentioned that Ukraine supplied 80 % of Crimea’s fresh water and up to 90 % of its electricity, on top of it, it annually paid 1 billion Crimea’s budget deficit. By annexing the peninsula with the territory Putin also gained a new responsibility, which is to sustain Crimea. Given that supplies from Ukraine are steadily dropping, Putin should start about a way of sustaining it very promptly.

According to Razumkov Centre, the think tank, Crimea is in grave need for resources including energy, water, and food supplies. Considering that the Russian Federation is not directly connected with Crimea and as I stated in the article ‘The dream of the imperealist’ building of the envisioned bridge which would connect Russia with the peninsula has not commenced yet and most likely will not commence any time soon, Putin needs to find a way to sustain his new acquirement.

The Ukrainian winter is considerably cold and Putin is aware of it. Furthermore, after the annexation he promised to lead Crimea to prosperity alongside Russia, stating that the difference would be noticeable in a short period of time. It appears that if nothing changes the peninsula will indeed see the difference spending the cold winter with an extreme shortage of energy and water resources. This, in turn, may result in public disapproval of Putin’s policy and eventually into mass protests and a rise of pro-Ukrainian movements in Crimea. On the other hand, weakening of Putin’s position on the peninsula will undermine his position in Russia itself and may lead to a significant rating decrease.

NATO made this picture of Russian troops in Ukraine public.

NATO made this picture of Russian troops in Ukraine public.

Thus, NATO uploading a picture of Russian troops crossing the Ukrainian border, constant allegations of Russia supplying the rebels with weapons and military vehicles, and rebels’ unpredictable advancement to the South indicate that Putin is involved in the conflict. Given the above analyses it appears that by sponsoring and helping the rebels he is trying to make his way to Crimea through South-Eastern Ukraine which will, in turn, enable him to secure a passage for the purpose of transporting required energy, water, and food resources from Russia to Crimea.

Answering the question of where do the rebels go in the winter- they go south. If this is the case, Poroshenko might use ceasefire time productively by striking a deal with Putin. The deal is simple: Ukraine provides Russia access to Crimea, in return Russia ceases supporting the rebels. In turn, if the Russian Federation stops supporting the rebels they will probably go either to jail or a place much hotter than south.

Bogdan Nesvit

Bogdan Nesvit

Editor, Eastern Europe at InPRA
Having completed his under-graduation at Dnepropetrovsk National University, Bogdan read as a post-graduate at the University of Oxford and University College London(UCL).

Coming from Ukraine, he has worked for Ukrainian City Councils, magazines, journals and joined the United Nations in 2014.

He hopes to bring a different but robust prospective on Eastern European and Eurasian politics with his work.
Bogdan Nesvit

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