After months of bloodshed and chaos in Eastern Ukraine, the ceasefire deal announced on Friday has the potential to be a game-changer, although the United States is still skeptical on whether the deal would really work, with President Obama resolute on signing stringent sanctions against Moscow even after the truce has been agreed upon.
But the question that is likely to be asked is how the conflict that seemed to be dragging forever, suddenly came to a halt? What motivated both Russia and Ukraine to step back from the conflict that was likely to snowball into a full-blown war?
Poroshenko's Limited Options
Ukrainian President seemed to have known only too well that his hidden desire to be able to crush the rebels in the east and pull his country out of its economic mess was foiled by the increasing manpower and heavy weapons supplied to the separatists – presumably by Moscow.
Although the rebels had almost been defeated a few weeks ago, the pro-Moscow separatists had returned to the battlefield with renewed zeal. Poroshenko had all reasons possible to concede that the Ukrainian troops were in the verge of a humiliating retreat. In his words, there was a "direct and open Russian aggression".
Poroshenko's hope of basking in the glory of victory was all too soon negated with President Putin giving him a reminder of sorts during the meeting in Minsk two week ago – that Ukraine will not be allowed to win in the east. And with the prospect of defeat looming large, Poroshenko didn't want to foil his plans for the nation-wide parliamentary elections next month.
Fair Weather Friends?
What Poroshenko had was "support" and "encouragement" from the west. What he didn't have, unfortunately, was a friend who was willing to directly engage in war with Russia on his country's behest.
When it comes to Russia, the West has no choice but to be pragmatic and circumspect, lest it pulls the entire world into a never-before-seen Third World War-kind scenario. Yes, NATO would support it politically, and economically. But Ukraine is not in NATO, and the West will not go to war with Russia over Ukraine's personal problem.
French and German leaders had already hinted repeatedly that the war would only end in a ceasefire and it was in Poroshenko's hand whether he wanted that to come sooner or later.
RussiaWill NotAnnex Again
The entire world knows that if Putin wanted, he could have easily taken the East of Ukraine just like he swallowed Crimea within matters of weeks. In his own, highly-quoted words reported all over last week, he could have taken Kiev "in two weeks" if he wanted to. There are reasons; however, he wouldn't do so.
Putin is in too thick a soup already, to continue building up enmity with the West, unless he wanted Russia to be left totally isolated. There was not much of a gain he would make from Eastern Ukraine after all. The area is poor, with many of its industries running in losses and the local population is deeply divided and traumatized with war.
The war would only prove to be too bloody and messy and it would only mean wasting large number of Russian troops. Putin was, from what it looks, not prepared for this eventuality.
Influential Russian Parents
Russian society has already been rattled by reports – which of course, were hushed up by Russia – of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine and brought home for secret funerals. The influential Soldiers' Mothers Committee has interfered in the conflict, urging parents not to send their sons to fight in Ukraine, the BBC noted in an analytical piece, adding that it was interesting how Russia's state-run TV was also acknowledging the presence of Russian volunteer fighters in Ukraine's east.
The last thing Putin wants to see is Russian corpses shipped home in body bags. His 'fatherly' image could quickly erode if Russian society thought their sons were dying for nothing.
While Russia might come across as the mightiest, strongest and relentless of all countries it will at one point have to introspect on how far it was willing the western sanctions to mount over its head. Prices have reportedly begun rising already in Russia, especially for food.
Putin is secretly wishing – though he might never concede to it – that the West stops intensifying sanctions that has already created a palpable sense of anxiety in Russian populace.