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Ukraine

Opinion: A chance for diplomacy in Ukraine crisis

Ukrainian troops have managed to push back separatists in eastern Ukraine. But the conflict can't be solved by military force alone, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

In the wake of the World Cup and further Mideast escalation, acts of war have intensified in occupied territories held by separatists in eastern Ukraine. Heavy weapons are on the rise, planes are shut down and numbers of victims are going up.

Information warfare has reached a new high as well as martial rhetoric from backbench MPs - one Russian MP has called for targeted military strikes against Ukraine.

The military situation on the ground has also changed: Ukrainian government troops have taken initiative and are pushing the separatist fighters to their limits. Since they've hastily pulled back from Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, two cities of symbolic importance, they have been focusing on a region between Donetsk, Luhansk and parts of the Russian-Ukrainian border instead.

 Ingo Mannteufel (photo: DW)

DW's Ingo Mannteufel

These military successes and regained control of single cities seem to prove Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko right for following a tough stance since the beginning of July, favoring a military solution.

Still, a political approach that's merely focused on violence is a risky undertaking for Kyiv as partisan warfare is imminent. House-to-house fighting in major cities like Donetsk and Luhansk is likely going to lead to horrific destruction and will increase casualties among civilians.

This certainly won't lead to increased levels of trust for Kyiv's government in eastern Ukraine. And the Kremlin could use escalating violence as a pretense to invade eastern Ukraine. It's highly questionable whether the conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk can be won by military means alone.

A chance for a mediated solution

That's why it's the right decision to restart talks of the so-called Contact Group which includes members of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Including separatists - first via video conference, then, at a later point have them participate in direct talks - is something that's inevitable, but also very problematic.

Basically, this translates to upgrading separatists in a way they don't deserve. They don't have a mandate to speak for the people in the occupied area they control.

The Contact Group's negotiations should not lead to a situation that allows the separatists to reach a secession of the Donbas region by agreeing to a cease-fire. The goal of the talks has to be to get the separatists to surrender in order to stop further blood shedding.

But it would be careless to completely forgo talks with separatists in light of these challenges and to seek one's salvation in military operations alone. And it would be more than foolish to believe there was a simple solution in this complicated conflict situation.

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