Thursday, February 5, 2015

Crisis Time for Ukraine

There is a new sense of urgency in Ukraine this week, as a major rebel offensive has shattered the five-month ceasefire agreement and brought the death toll up over 5,000 since the conflict started some nine months ago. Ukraine finds itself in a difficult position, as it struggles on two separate but completely related fronts: their floundering economy, and their military-occupied sovereign territory. Without major successes on both fronts, Ukraine may find itself in a dangerous position in weeks to come.

Earlier this week, the United States made headlines on the subject when President Obama suggested that he was considering delivering defensive weapons to Ukraine in order to assist in their fending off rebel onslaughts. This is a major new development, and indicates that there are very real concerns on the part of the Western world when it comes to the security and the stability of Ukraine. Months ago, there wouldn't even have been a debate on whether military assistance was necessary; today, it is a very real possibility.

Russia is understandably unhappy with President Obama's musings. The Kremlin has stated that any military support of Ukraine by Western countries would be perceived as a direct threat to Russia - a hypocritical statement from a country that used its military force to "liberate" part of Ukraine's sovereign territory just months ago, instigating the entire ongoing conflict. However, Russia's warnings should be taken with more than a grain of salt. Despite ramped up sanctions, Russia's ruble has stabilized, and while oil prices remain at unusual lows, it seems as though Russia may actually be able to weather their financial malaise.

The Ukraine, on the other hand, is having serious economic troubles. The hryvnia plummeted earlier today following decisions by the Ukrainian Central Bank to raise interest rates. Foreign reserves are at virtually an all-time low, and with the war raging on, Ukraine's bank accounts are draining. They need to stabilize their currency and get their finances in order quickly if they have any chance at avoiding a major default or forfeiting the war due to lack of money.

Because of this, there has been a renewed effort from the rest of Europe to broker a peace deal, and fast. Leaders from France and Germany were in Kiev today laying out the conditions of a new peace agreement that would hopefully put an end to the conflict - at least temporarily. Secretary John Kerry was also present, and while not an author of the peace deal, put American support behind it. This peace deal may be a last-ditch effort, and the significance of it is not lost on Ukraine. Without some sort of renewed ceasefire in the coming weeks, should the conflict intensify, Ukraine will find itself gasping for air and desperate from support from the U.S. and others that perhaps may never come.

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