Earlier today, the Ukrainian military announced that two small villages in the Donetsk region, Pavlopil and Pyshchevyk, have returned to Ukrainian control. These villages were in a buffer area between Ukrainian and Russian-backed rebel forces, and a distance of about 4 miles from the nearest Ukrainian checkpoint. On the surface, this is a minor adjustment on the ground in a conflict that has been ongoing for two years. Nevertheless, the move comes just as Ukraine is implementing a number of provocative measures. Kiev has yet to restore electricity supplies to Russian-controlled Crimea, despite having fixed at least one of the four pylons that could provide the peninsula with power. In effect, a political decision has been made in Kiev to prolong the electricity outage. Despite Russian retaliation through a cutoff of both coal and natural gas supplies, Ukraine is not relenting, indicating Kiev is trying to draw attention to its plight against Russia as the Kremlin’s negotiations with the Americans continue.
On Dec. 3, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke on the phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, Kerry “emphasized that possible coordination with Russia on important issues [on the] international agenda would not be held at the cost of Ukraine’s interests.” Kerry’s reassurance drives at the heart of Kiev’s current fears. The Ukrainians are watching the U.S. and Russia grow closer in the fight against the Islamic State. The government in Kiev thus fears that Ukraine’s interests will end up of secondary importance to Washington, and that the U.S. will prioritize a grand coalition in Syria — even if building that coalition would entail giving Moscow concessions when it comes to Ukraine.
Ukraine does not have many options, either on the military or economic front, that would not trigger a devastating response from Russia or significant disapproval from Ukraine’s allies. The Ukrainian government is trying to draw American attention to its concerns, whether through declaring control of frontline villages or turning off the lights in the Crimean Peninsula. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Dec. 3 that he is planning to visit Rome next week but he is unsure of the dates for his trip because “some ‘friends’ may ruin” his plans — presumably a reference to Ukraine. Neither side wishes to return to active fighting and the U.S. has an interest in preserving a pro-Western government in Kiev, but for Ukraine, fears are growing that its most important ally may be pulling away.