Kristina Cimova comments on the futility of the Minsk ceasefire agreement. Military operations taking place on Slovak territory in support of Ukraine testify to the nominal nature of the conflict’s resolution
It is an increasingly tall order for a country neighbouring Ukraine to remain impartial to the situation at hand. The conflict is portrayed through both Western and local media outlets, which point to an augmentation of NATO military activity on the territory of the Slovak Republic and within neighbouring states, found in the proximity of Ukraine and Russia.
The former NATO leader, Anders Rasmussen, was quoted on the Slovak on-line portal HNonline.sk in February this year; Rasmussen claimed the following: for Putin, the conflict no longer concerns Ukraine and its territory. The great finale is to see the Kremlin re-established in its position as the world’s superpower. Rasmussen further warned against Putin’s potential attack on the Baltic States, undertaken as a testing exercise in response to Article 5 of the Treaty of NATO (only implemented once so far, following 9/11).
In response, Lithuania renewed its policy of conscription and NATO requested additional control points in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Considering the negotiations of a ceasefire in Minsk this February, the official announcement made by the Slovak Republic appears futile from the outset. Nonetheless, given that Slovakia is a country within immediate proximity to the Ukrainian conflict, its decision to implement training schemes for dozens of Ukrainian combat engineers should be read as a powerful political statement.
This is far from forming the sole policy implementation stemming from the NATO summit in Wales and from a pledge of support to Ukraine. Slovakia’s government gave permission to official NATO military trainings to be carried out in the near vicinity of the Slovak-Ukrainian border. This is not a matter of coincidence. The Slovak government is adamant on the necessary timing of these training sessions, given their intrinsic link to the on-going conflict – despite the seemingly calm horizon, under the pretence of a purported ceasefire.
The numbers speak for themselves. Throughout February, over a hundred American soldiers of the Special Forces have been conducting training sessions in the cities of Žilina, Kamenica nad Cirochou and Lešť. An extra five hundred were due to arrive on March 15th. Apart from the American soldiers, there are also soldiers from the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Austria training alongside Slovak forces. This conspicuous, bordering on blatant, growing military presence of NATO is counter-acted through Russia’s response to increase training and organisation of aviation close to Finland’s borders.
Importantly, what do the Slovaks make of this increase in military activity? The majority seems discontented. Last week, a protest numbering approximately 400 citizens took place in the capital, Bratislava, demonstratively in front of the American embassy. Signs read: ‘We don’t want NATO, we want peace’, ‘No to the new control posts’ and ‘NATO separates all Slavic nations’. Citizens living in nearby towns to the location of the training further complain about the constant noise made by heavy artillery and the ‘Black Hawks’ commotion on a daily basis.
Whether such measures are truly justified is a separate matter of discussion. President Poroshenko discussed the possibility of resorting to martial law, in the event that the Minsk negotiations would fail. Ukraine’s military spokesman, Andrij Lysenko, also reported increased activity of heavy artillery of the separatists between the cities of Artemivsk and Debaltseve on the eve of the ceasefire negotiations.
On March 10th, the situation sees great similarity to reports sent by separatists, who were transporting heavy artillery and building ammunition warehouses in Donetsk. Weeks after the ceasefire is nominally in operation, reports from the region still point to 17 cases of military troops held under fire by Ukrainian troops over a period of 24 hours. This in itself constitutes a commentary on the efficiency of the ceasefire. From the viewpoint of those closest to the conflict, as gathered from local sources who hold no pre-established agenda of guilt-tripping the parties involved, it becomes clear that the ceasefire’s operation is relative, at best.