Renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine looks worrisome

Fighting in Ukraine has been escalating again over the past ~10 days:

Fighting between government forces and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine has escalated sharply in recent days, with each side blaming the other for the violence.

At least nine people were killed in artillery strikes on Monday in villages and towns on both sides of a cease-fire line, and United States officials have said that one three-day period of fighting along the front last week was the most intense since a February cease-fire.

Neither side has openly renounced the cease-fire, but European monitors of the accord say both have been pulling heavy weapons out of storage sites and putting them to use.

What might be more worrisome is that both sides appear to be exaggerating the extent to which the other is mobilizing, which could serve as justification for widening the conflict even further. It’s not clear whether this latest violence has been localized and haphazard or ordered by either Moscow, Kiev, or both, but whatever is causing it the risk of escalation is ever-present.

The conflict is heating up at a time when Donbas’s rebel authorities are working pretty hard to break the region’s cultural ties to the rest of Ukraine while increasing its cultural ties to Russia:

Alongside the superficial changes, more fundamental shifts are under way as rebel leaders seek to eliminate European influences and align their region with Russia. Moscow’s gravitational pull is particularly evident in the education system, where authorities have overhauled the curriculum, changed the grading system and stripped report cards of Ukraine’s national symbols, including the distinctive gold trident.

“History will be studied with a greater Russian bias and geography will focus more on Russia’s territories,” said one secondary school teacher, who did not want to give her name. “Ukrainian language lessons remain but the number of classes will decrease from around eight hours a week to just two hours. Russian language and literature lessons will increase.”

Even if this current escalation in violence doesn’t re-open the war, the longer the stalemate between Kiev and the separatists goes on, the further Donbas drifts from Kiev’s orbit and the easier it’s going to be for the two sides to get pulled back into a major war eventually.

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