The Kiev-Donbas “Shadow War” will Continue, But a Big One Is Unlikely for Now
As is now known from the wisdom of hindsight, Alexander Zakharchenko’s assassination wasn’t the trigger for reigniting conventional hostilities between Kiev and the Donbas Republics like some people feared it would be immediately after the event happened, though that of course doesn’t mean that it wasn’t the intention of those who carried out the act and patronized the terrorists. It’s because of the cool-headedness and self-restraint of the Donetsk authorities that they opted not to act against Kiev, which most observers suspect to have masterminded this operation together with Washington. That’s not to say that some response or another won’t be forthcoming, but just that it’ll probably stick to the realm of “shadow wars” for now.
Another point to keep in mind is that the assassination was designed to cultivate an atmosphere of fear and suspicion within the rebel ranks, as well as decrease the population’s faith in the authorities. Donetsk was unexpectedly forced to experience a sudden leadership transition under the most trying of circumstances, and the new authorities will need to stabilize the situation on the home front before seriously considering any conventional response such as the recommencement of large-scale conflict with Kiev. The reason why the central government didn’t take military advantage of the situation is because the rebels’ armed forces remained vigilant despite the political crisis inside their self-proclaimed republic, which wasn’t what Kiev expected.
The timing of Zakharchenko’s assassination also deserves to be looked at because it appears as though it was meant to coincide with the upcoming opening ceremony of the UN General Assembly later this month, during which Poroshenko could use his global pulpit to try and rally the Western world against Russia and the rebels. That’s another reason why any conventional response to this assassination would come under increased scrutiny because it would be framed as so-called “aggression” and exploited as the tripwire for more sanctions, which might be promulgated anyhow under other infowar pretexts but which Russia would prefer to have nothing to do with the Ukrainian Civil War so long as it’s continuing its incipient rapprochement with Minsk partners France and Germany.
In fact, it might even be the case that Russia is utilizing its channels of communication with the Donbas rebels to encourage them to refrain from any reckless military action in response to the latest terrorist provocation, understanding that a conventional response under the present (key word) circumstances might actually play into the US and Kiev’s hands. Again, that shouldn’t be taken to mean that this possible assessment of the situation is set in stone, but just that this is probably how Russia perceives it at the given moment in view of the prevailing international situation, and that the most likely outcome in the near term is a continuation of the “shadow war” between Kiev and the Donbas Republics but no large-scale conflict.