President elect Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine will take office on May 28, 2019. While President Putin has said that he’s open to one-on-one peace talks with Zelensky who is also open to such a meeting, he has made his negotiating positions clear by saying the Donbas and Crimea are territories “temporarily” occupied by Russia, and he expects to bring them both back under Kyiv’s control.

Moderated by a February 2015 cease-fire known as Minsk II, the war in the Donbas is now a static, trench war. It’s a bizarre conflict, in which neither side is fighting to achieve a breakthrough. Rather, both sides simply hold their lines, while weathering daily shelling and sniper fire, for the sake of not backing down first. The land war in the Donbas is relatively quarantined from the rest of Ukraine by the Minsk II cease-fire. The physical effects of combat extend only as far as the range of the weapons used.

In the Donbas warzone, approximately 60,000 Ukrainian troops remain deployed along a roughly 250-mile-long front line. Opposite the Ukrainians inside Russia’s two breakaway territories (Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic), there are currently about 3,000 Russian soldiers embedded within a larger force of about 34,000 pro-Russian separatists, and foreign mercenaries.

Beyond the Donbas warzone, Ukraine has fortified its southern seaboard. Russia has about 77,000 troops deployed along its border with Ukraine

Ukraine has rebuilt its army into Europe’s second largest in terms of manpower. Ukraine’s armed forces now comprise about 250,000 active-duty troops. On the Continent, only Russia has a larger military than Ukraine’s. Thus, with Europe’s two largest standing land armies exchanging daily fire in the Donbas, there’s always the chance of an unanticipated event, setting off an escalatory domino chain that leads to a much bigger, and far deadlier, cataclysm.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine are inevitably contingent on progress being made on the Donbass situation and will collapse again should irreconcilable differences arise around implementing the Minsk agreements.

Zelinskiy will not implement the Minsk agreements as interpreted by Russia. In all likelihood, Zelenskiy will not implement the Paris summit agreement reached by the Normandy Four on achieving the "Steinmeier formula" i.e. holding elections in the republics under a special law and granting the DLNR special status on a temporary basis on the day the elections are held, and then on a permanent basis after the OSCE can confirm the integrity of the elections.

In the meantime, Poroshenko, Ukraine’s outgoing president, has asked the European Union to levy harsher sanctions against Russia when the bloc reviews its existing sanctions in June.

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