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Ukraine faces constant political tension as conflict intensifies

July 12, 2014 at 4:33 PM EST
After a recent lull, the conflict in eastern Ukraine once again is intensifying. Ukrainian government troops are now massing near Donetsk, a city of approximately one million people, for a likely ground offensive against pro-Russian separatists. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies joins Hari Sreenivasan from D.C.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: After a recent lull, the conflict in eastern Ukraine once again is intensifying. Ukrainian government troops are now massing near Donetsk, a city of approximately one million people, for a likely ground offensive against pro-Russian separatists who recently retreated there.

Ukrainian warplanes bombed rebel sites there today. This, a day after the rebels killed more than 20 government troops in a missile attack. For more about the situation there, we are joined once again by Anthony Cordesman. So what are the pro-Russian separatists’ chances without Russian involvement?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: They seem to be limited, they’re still not unified, they’re now concentrated in one major urban area. They at least, are complaining that they are running out of ammunition, running out of supplies, they have money problems, their weapons simply don’t compete in any sense with the Ukrainian forces.  

And these do not seem to be the trained forces in any sense that existed in the Crimea.  Many of them seem to be people with no real military background or capability of fighting irregular warfare. The problem is, however, for the Ukrainian forces, moving into urban warfare is a massive problem.  You have to worry about the population, you have to worry about buildings, you have very short areas, ranges, lines of sight, where your weapons are hard to use. So it is a problem for both sides.  

In balance, however, the evidence seems to be Russia is pulling back, it’s not actively supporting the pro-Russian forces, the independence forces. It seems to be moving towards a position where basically it can leave the Ukraine in a state of almost constant tension in the east, poor, without enough aid from the outside to help its economy recover. And essentially fight more of a political than a military battle.  

HARI SREENIVASAN: And briefly what about the economic costs, the long-term economic costs to Ukraine if Russia wants to increase natural gas prices as they say they do?

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, the natural gas prices that Russia’s proposed would bankrupt the country but then the country is already bankrupt. One thing to remember about the Ukraine is that it has had one of the worst governments in Eastern Europe.

It has seen a steady decline in development, it has failed to meet the needs of the people through either improved services or economic development. So you had a crisis point that led to an overthrow of the previous government, and it doesn’t take much to keep the Ukraine very poor and very unstable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anthony Cordesman, thanks so much.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: My pleasure.