Days after separatists in Luhansk and the self-anointed Donetsk People's Republic voted for independence in a weekend referendum, Ukrainian Defense Minister Defense Minister Mykhaylo Koval said that “in our eastern regions we have an undeclared war,” and that the blame falls squarely on "our neighboring country."
Ukrainian leaders aren't the only ones hearing the drums of war — according to a poll by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, 56 percent of Ukrainians believe they are at war with Russia, Bloomberg reports.
If Ukraine is, indeed, in some type of war with Russia, then it seems that Luhansk and Donetsk, which both reported absurdly high rates of approval for independence, are doing their best to change sides. Pro-Russian separatists in both regions announced on Tuesday that they will join together in their bid for secession, and eventual annexation. Both areas have remained a hotbed of unrest since Crimea was overtaken by Russia. Today, a rebel leader was reportedly shot in Luhansk in what was described as an attempted assassination.
And per the New York Times, residents of the eastern city of Sloviansk, a part of Donetsk, are caught in the crossfire between separatists and Ukrainian troops:
With rebels and government troops separated in places by only a little more than the range of a machine-gun burst, and at least one side using heavier weapons, the dark math of the battlefield suggests it may only be a matter of time before a major mishap occurs, providing more fuel for a young conflict that has already turned bitter.
Meanwhile, it seems Russia is content to sit back and watch as the crisis unfolds. Rather than embracing Donetsk and Luhansk as it did Crimea, the Kremlin issued a spare statement on the referendum, saying that it "respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions," and urging the conflict to be solved internally. Next week, the regions are expected to formally ask to join Russia.
According to USA Today, the internal tumult could mean that Russia doesn't actually need to do all that much to keep Ukraine under its thumb:
European analysts say there is no need for Russia to invade eastern Ukraine now that it has gained ultimate authority over much of the country by its takeover of Crimea and declarations of independence in the pro-Russian east. "The referendum actually advantages Russia," Keir Giles, analyst at Chatham House's International Security and Russia and Eurasia Program London. "They do not need to have physical control of these regions to achieve their objective for the Ukraine, which is always has been to render Ukraine ungovernable."
As the situation continues to escalate, global leaders vow to step in. Today, Germany's foreign minister to Ukraine, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, arrived in Kiev to try to help broker a deal between the Ukrainian government and rebels. Best of luck to him.