Conflict Summary

Since April 2014, pro-Russian separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces in eastern regions of the country. The rebellion, which has received material, personnel, and direct military support from Moscow, followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. Separatists capitalised on the resentments and fears of the residents of the predominantly Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk regions following the overthrow of the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych in February and its replacement by a government dominated by Western Ukrainians. In early April, they sought to establish independent ‘People’s Republics’ regions by taking over administrative buildings in a dozen towns and cities. Kyiv responded by launching a military assault – dubbed an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ to justify the use of the army inside the country – to regain control. The fighting ebbed and flowed since, through repeated diplomatic attempts to ‘de-escalate’ the situation, the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over the warzone on July 17, Western sanctions on Russia, and an aggressive ‘information war’.  At the end of August, when the Ukrainian government forces appeared to have nearly routed the separatists, the Russian military intervened directly and decisively, forcing Kyiv to sue for peace. The situation gained a degree of stability following the signing of two ceasefire agreements in September and additional measures in December. Nevertheless, by mid-December 2014 the UN estimated that more than 4,700 people had been killed.

  • Protests began in Kyiv in November 2013 after President Yanukovych failed to sign a much-anticipated EU trade agreement;
  • After nearly 90 ‘Euromaidan’ protesters were killed 18–20 February, Yanukovych signed a power-sharing deal with opponents, which collapsed nearly immediately. He fled to Russia and a new government took power;
  • Armed ‘little green men’ in camouflage but no insignia seized the Crimean parliament and other key installations in late February. In a disputed referendum on 16 March, Crimeans voted to join Russia;
  • Rebels seized a dozen cities, including Donetsk, Luhansk, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, in early April, and began shooting down Ukrainian military aircraft;
  • The Ukrainian military, with the help of volunteer battalions, mounted a campaign over the summer, successfully retaking many separatist-controlled areas;
  • The Russian military intervened directly in late August, decimating the Ukrainian forces and compelling Kyiv to sue for peace;
  • Separatists have maintained de facto control in territory to the south and east of a line of contact that begins at the Russian border east of Luhansk city, wraps around Donetsk city and ends near Shyrokyne on the Sea of Azov.
  • A Trilateral Contact Group met twice in Minsk in September 2014, signing agreements designed to de-escalate the conflict; while there was a decrease in violence, hostilities could still be renewed as both sides reinforce their positions along the front lines.