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Eastern Europe

Opinion: OSCE hostage release does not signal de-escalation

The move to set free the OSCE observers is positive, but it doesn't represent a sign that the conflict in Ukraine is calming down, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

After an eight-day hostage drama, pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine released the Western and Ukrainian military observers who had been on site as part of an OSCE agreement. Vladimir Lukin, a special envoy of the Russian president, was able to organize the release of the prisoners with no conditions.

The men's release is a welcome move on behalf of the separatists, who had described the detainees as "NATO spies" and "prisoners of war." It's also praiseworthy that Russia ultimately helped broker the deal - following appeals to do so from the West and from former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Nevertheless, their release is unfortunately not a signal that the conflict is settling down.

Pictures of a war

Fighting between Ukrainian government troops and the heavily armed separatist militias in the eastern region around Donetsk continue unabated. Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov announced early Saturday (03.05.2014) that the military operation will continue against pro-Russian forces in Kramatorsk, just a few kilometers from Slovyansk. Heavy fighting ensued there over the course of the day.

In coastal Odessa, events have even indicated an escalation of the clashes. Numerous people have died there in street fighting between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups and in a fire that engulfed a contested union building.

On both sides of the conflict, there are forces stoking tensions or looking to use violence. The West's appeals to overcome the crisis with diplomacy have fallen on deaf ears among the parties involved.

Pro-Russian separatists are clearly trying to further destabilize Ukraine in order to prevent the presidential election slated for May 25. In light of the continuing loss of control in eastern Ukraine, the country's government finds itself in a difficult situation. It's now under pressure from Ukrainian citizens to demonstrate strength and use violence to fight back against separatist groups. This explosive mix of an unwillingness to compromise, mutual finger-pointing and breeding fears is a recipe for civil war, particularly since neighboring Russia is playing a diabolical role along the way.

Perfidious tactics

The pro-Western government that took shape around Turchynov and Yatsenyuk after the deposal of Ukrainian President Yanukovych unleashed fears in the Kremlin of losing Ukraine in a zero sum game to the EU and, in the mid-term, to NATO. That's why Russian leaders took advantage of Ukraine's central government and annexed Crimea in March.

Now, the Russian approach is aiming to prevent the presidential polls on May 25 in order to preclude a legitimization of Ukraine's central government. Moscow seems to accept the risk of pushing Ukraine into a state of war. In fact, Russia may even be counting on that scenario.

After all, the fact that the Kremlin has more influence on the separatist powers than it is letting on and that it could calm the situation if it wanted to is evident from the Russian envoy's ability to effect the release of the military observers.

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