clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ukraine's ceasefire is a sham. These maps prove it.

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On September 5, the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists signed a ceasefire agreement, orchestrated by Russian President Vladimir Putin, designed to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The truth, though, is that this ceasefire has done so no such thing. This great graphic, from The Economist, shows why.

The Economist chronologically arranged a number of maps of Donbas, the region that Ukrainian forces, Russian forces, and pro-Russian separatists are contesting. Each map shows the territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists on that day, starting with June 16 and up throughSeptember 22. Major dates, like the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, are marked next to the map of the day on which they happened. Here's what it looks like:

economist ukraine maps

(The Economist)

The graph makes the recent arc of the Russia-Ukraine conflict especially clear. From June 16 through August 24, the Ukrainian military was slowly but surely beating the rebel forces back. Then everything changed when Russia attacked.

The Russian invasion, prompted by the prospect of rebel defeat, reversed the dynamics of the conflict. By September 5, the day of the cease fire, the separatists and Russian forces had retaken a good chunk of the territory that they'd lost before invasion.

And here's the thing that shows what the ceasefire is really worth: rebel territory kept growing after the ceasefire. By September 11, "each of the opposing parties [had] already recorded multiple violations of the ceasefire," Tatiana Stanovaya, an analyst at the Institute of Modern Russia, writes. The rebel expansion — that is, the Russian expansion — continued largely unabated.

pro-Russian ukrainian militant DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)

A pro-Russian militant in Ukraine. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

This isn't very surprising. The root cause of the conflict is Moscow's desire to control Ukrainian territory and policy: for a variety of reasons, Putin is concerned about the Ukrainian government developing closer ties with the West. He is also propelled by domestic political forces of Russian nationalism that he himself stirred up.

So long as Putin thinks the benefits of supporting Ukrainian rebels against the government outweigh the costs, he'll keep backing them. So long as the rebel groups are strong enough to do so, they'll fight for territory — and possibly bring a full return to war. Any ceasefire that doesn't solve the underlying political issues is not going to end that combat on the ground.

Events after the publication of the Economist maps bear this out. On September 28, Russian-aligned forces attacked Ukrainian troops at several points near the borders that had been set by the ceasefire. According to the New York Times, it was the deadliest attack since the ceasefire began.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.