On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Minsk with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The two held talks ostensibly aimed at bringing an end to a war that, according to the UN, has now claimed at least 2,000 lives. It is hard to imagine that Mr. Putin can agree to an end to the conflict – since he is the aggressor, and for peace to break out, he would have to back down. Instead, he keeps upping the ante.
Only hours before the two presidents met, a handful of Russian soldiers were captured inside Ukraine. Moscow claimed that this was all a misunderstanding; the soldiers had crossed the border by mistake. That is very hard to believe. Russia invaded Ukraine last spring, occupying Crimea, and it has been repeatedly and deliberately violating Ukrainian sovereignty ever since.
Since the start of fighting in eastern Ukraine, Moscow has been supplying the insurgency with arms, assistance and – this cannot be stressed enough – insurgents. But as those insurgents have, to widespread surprise, been pushed back by the Ukrainian military, Moscow’s incursions in support of them have grown. Last week’s mysterious “aid convoy” was a provocation whose only point appears to have been to violate Ukraine’s borders. And NATO recently declared that Russia is firing artillery at the Ukrainian armed forces “both cross-border and from within Ukraine.” In other words, Russian artillery units are not just firing at Ukraine from Russia, which is bad enough. They are firing at Ukraine from inside Ukraine.
The only way for peace to return to the region is for Russia to respect Ukraine’s internationally recognized border. Problem: The whole point of the Russian President’s policy, pursued over many months, is to delegitimize Ukraine and erase the country’s border. So far, Mr. Putin’s plan has been stymied. Expect the violence to continue, as he tries to turn events to his advantage.