Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists began a tenuous cease-fire in eastern Ukraine on Sept. 5. Although the cease-fire was officially reached under the framework of the contact group in Minsk — consisting of representatives from Kiev, Moscow, Russia-backed separatist groups, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin laid the groundwork for the agreement in a Sept. 3 bilateral phone conversation. Simultaneously, the NATO summit in Wales closed without any significant offers of aid to Ukraine from the alliance, further frustrating Kiev's position as it faces tactical defeats in eastern Ukraine and is forced to field hastily trained and heavily demoralized forces. Poroshenko has little choice but to initiate what will be a long, drawn-out negotiation process that could ultimately transform the crisis in eastern Ukraine into a frozen conflict.
Western leaders at the NATO summit in Wales rhetorically supported Ukraine's efforts to regain control over its eastern reaches, but the organization avoided committing any form of significant aid. The promise of 15 million euros ($20 million) to aid the Ukrainian government in areas such as logistics, command and control, communications, and rehabilitation of wounded troops is a comparatively tiny amount. Such an amount will do very little to meet Ukraine's need for well-trained manpower and modern weapons as Kiev attempts to roll back the Russia-backed separatist counteroffensive reinforced by regular Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.
Fighting stopped in Donetsk and Luhansk as the cease-fire formally came into effect at 6 p.m. local time on Sept. 5, as well as in the outskirts of nearby Mariupol earlier in the day. Over the previous week, Kiev was forced to divert forces from Luhansk and Donetsk to cities in the coastal regions, further weakening the campaigns against separatist main defended areas. Mariupol is a strategic port city, and a significant outlet for Ukraine's coal and steel exports to reach world markets. A siege of Mariupol not only would have been a tactical challenge, but would further exacerbate Ukraine's growing economic woes. Many Ukrainian soldiers are also increasingly frustrated with the government's inability to provide them with adequate support, and resentful of the alleged misreporting of the number of associated casualties in eastern Ukraine.
Lacking NATO support and facing growing military pressure in the east, Poroshenko will be forced to compromise with the Kremlin. The agreed cease-fire is the first step in a long process in which the conflict in eastern Ukraine will remain largely frozen as the Kremlin uses its political and military influence in Donbas as a lever to elicit concessions from the government in Kiev.