six years and a growing list of casualties, a political studies professor says
the War in Donbas needs a permanent ceasefire, even if it means compromise for
has changed in terms of the boundaries, says Dominique Arel, a professor and
chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Ottawa. With the death toll
estimated over 13,000, Ukrainians face a heavy price for defending their
annual Mohyla Lecture, Arel spoke about the origin and consequences of the war
to an audience largely made up of members from the Ukrainian-Canadian community.
seems unlikely that Russian-backed forces will depart Donbas and restore it to
Ukraine, according to Arel’s analysis of the active war.
not sure I’m gonna be popular tonight just saying that,” Arel admitted with a
little laugh, hours before the lecture. “But then, you know, the message [in]
the end is hopeful.”
compromise is a difficult topic to broach when advocating for anything less
than total territorial sovereignty is sometimes seen as treacherous. Canada,
in particular, is known for being an ardent supporter of Ukraine, providing
military training and humanitarian aid.
Arel makes the point that with international relations, it is important to be
realistic about negotiations. Rather than telling Ukrainians which options
they should pursue, he is laying out the options so Ukraine can decide on what
they see as the best course of action.
less what is it that we would like to happen as opposed to what is possible.
What is possible and what is ultimately positive for Ukraine,” Arel said.
While there was a ceasefire
established in 2015, it has gone unrecognized for years. The priority for Arel
is for conflict to be suspended while diplomatic talks continue.
Almost a year ago, Ukraine
established Volodymyr Zelensky as its president, winning over the incumbent
Petro Poroshenko, who took power in 2014. Zelensky, who is from the Eastern
region, vowed to end the war, something his predecessor was not able to do.
“He doesn’t want the war to go
on as a live war,” Arel said about President Zelensky. “If he makes it a cold
war, that’s already a huge improvement. Nothing is solved politically, but at
least people are not dying anymore.”
But even if negotiations led
to possible reintegrating of the region, pro-Russian sentiment is a
pre-existing condition that would present difficulties.
The four-month gap before
police lost control and Russian-backed forces entered Donbas means that even
after a ceasefire, there might still be a pro-Europe, pro-Russia divide in
“The Ukrainian government lost
control of the territory before there was an actual systematic military
intervention. And that is the really difficult part to understand and then to
figure out what it means going forward,” Arel said.
Not everything is hopeless
though. Arel says that Ukraine is much stronger now than it was six years ago.
Especially in comparison to neighbouring Poland and Hungary, who have both
relapsed to a more authoritarian style of rule.
“The whole thing is that, de facto, there’s a
number of indicators — despite all the problems, it shows that Ukraine is