In a piece published on August 28, the website of the Russian government-funded broadcaster RT quoted U.S. Special Envoy Kurt Volker as saying that Moscow seeks to ‘freeze’ the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Citing an interview Volker gave to the Financial Times, RT wrote: “U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker stated that Russian authorities intend to ‘freeze’ the situation in Donbass.”
Moscow has been accused of prolonging the conflict, impeding the implementation of the 2015 Minsk II agreements while supporting the region’s rebels, who declared independent Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics after the ouster of the government in Kyiv a year earlier.
After a visit to eastern Ukraine, Volker described the situation there as a “hot war.” He added that separatists “under Russian command and control” have been firing at ceasefire monitors and obstructing their work.
According to the FT, Volker in fact stated that Russia seemed prepared to “live with” the status quo in the conflict-plagued region, adding that he did not think the situation there was “working out very well” for Moscow.
“There is a cost to Russia internationally being in the Donbass, the sanctions as well as politically,” he told the newspaper. “And frankly that situation is going to get worse over time, not better. A situation where Russia is going to be frozen out of diplomatic relationships, of economic relationships, because of this, is certainly not something that Russia would want. I think they have got to make their own choice, their own calculations.”
Volker’s comments to the Financial Times came just days after he met with his Russian counterpart Vladislav Surkov to revive stalled efforts to resolve the conflict, which has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
But no major progress has been made, prompting Volker to emphasize the continuity of sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and actions in eastern Ukraine.
“Russia has forces in eastern Ukraine and it needs to pull them out,” he said.
Russia has denied it has troops in eastern Ukraine, despite contrary claims by NATO and the United States.
The cease-fire remains fragile, with violations impeding the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) and the situation threatening to spiral into an outright war.
On August 28, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged Moscow and Kyiv to step up their efforts to implement the ceasefire deal while warning of continued threats faced by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) personnel in both Kyiv- and rebel-controlled territories.
“The OSCE observer mission continues to report threats to its staff and restrictions on their freedom of movement, particularly in the areas not controlled by the Ukrainian government,” Merkel and Macron said in a joint statement.
On August 29, Merkel said sanctions against Russia would be lifted if Moscow agreed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
But concerns remain that Russia might be seeking to transform the crisis into a frozen conflict.