Diplomatic ruptures are notoriously difficult to mend. The situation gets particularly knotty when hostilities, nationalist aspirations and geopolitics get intertwined as is the case with the turmoil in Ukraine.
The crisis started last year with Russian president Vladimir Putin deciding to retaliate against Kiev’s tilt towards Europe by brazenly annexing Crimea. Moscow also backed and armed rebels in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, leading to violence that has seen around 5,600 people killed.
The US has taken a strong line imposing effective sanctions targeting individuals and businesses close to Mr Putin. These, coupled with low oil prices, nudged the Russian president to the negotiating table but he has nonetheless manoeuvred himself into a commanding position, for now. The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine concluded the Minsk Agreement, which envisages an immediate ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and talks on decentralisation for the regions. But the ceasefire has expectedly run into trouble with many faulting the politicians for agreeing on a tight deadline that is impossible to deliver.
Fierce fighting was reported at the transport hub of Debaltseve, where around 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers were trapped in rebel-held territory — prompting real fears of a massacre, which would have unravelled the agreement.
There were conflicting reports on Wednesday about the situation in Debaltseve with Ukraine claiming its troops were leaving the city while others reported continued fighting. Kiev will be outraged over Mr Putin’s alleged failure to persuade the rebels to comply with the ceasefire. Mr Putin appears keen on underlining Russian primacy in the region by humiliating Kiev periodically. He will continue to try and drive a wedge between Europe — which wants calmer borders and Russian gas — and the US, which seeks to resist Russia’s regional dominance. Mr Putin has staked the future of his regime on this brinksmanship. We are far from seeing the end of this crisis.