Just two weeks ago the end to the Ukrainian war looked as if it could be in sight. But this newfound hope was snuffed out three days ago when a bomb blast killed two in the city of Kharkiv in the north-east of Ukraine. The attack, which occurred during a march to celebrate the anniversary of the Euromaidan protests, increases the prospect of the war spreading further west. Until now, the conflict has been contained to the area known as the Donbass region which encompasses the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. However this recent development is the most serious indication that the conflict could spread to areas far beyond its initial containment zone.

Hopes had been raised recently as a consequence of the Minsk II agreement on the 12th of February. The leaders of Germany, Russia, Belarus, France and Ukraine had convened in the Belarusian capital in a desperate attempt to thrash out a ceasefire to end the conflict which has so far claimed no less than 5,700 lives. However, fighting has carried on in the far-east of the Donbass region and as of yet the troops on both sides have failed to retreat. The ceasefire was meant to lead to an immediate halt to the bloodshed on the 15th of February and in this respect it has well and truly failed.

The past couple of days however have seen a few bright spots in an otherwise truly grim situation. Prisoner swaps between the pro-Russian and pro-Kiev armies proceeded with 191 soldiers returning to their respective sides. Both sides are claiming that prisoners of war have been mistreated and unfortunately they are both very likely correct.

There was hope that soon the opposing forces would begin to pull back their heavy machinery. But the Russian-backed rebels in the town of Debaltseve claim, under the terms of the agreement they do not have to withdraw weaponry in this area. As Ukrainian troops attempted to pull out of the town they were shot at by the rebel army. This appears to be a violation of the ceasefire and it is suggested there have been dozens more episodes such as this  occurring in the past two weeks.

The idea that a conflict could even occur on mainland Europe is still unthinkable to many. The most recent war was in Kosovo more than 15 years ago and before that was the rest of the Yugoslav wars which began in 1991. However this time, Ukraine’s geopolitical position in Eastern Europe makes this conflict a potential tinder box. The Russians have stated their intentions by arming the rebels of eastern Ukraine. This would in effect help create what is known as ‘Novorossiya’ or new Russia. This has created worries that Putin could attempt to disrupt other states with sizeable Russian-speaking minorities that once formed part of the Soviet Union. This includes the Baltic States and Belarus and even the Caucasus nations. This however is not the first time that Russian aggression has tipped the region into chaos. Putin was president in 2000 when the army crushed a rebellion in Chechnya and inserted a pro-Russian puppet government into power. Similarly, the 2008 war in South Ossetia has led to Russian troops occupying the region. It is events such as these that terrify the West and threaten to fuel imperialist expansionist tendencies that Putin desires.

Time is of the essence in Ukraine. The West needs to immediately compose a coherent foreign policy plan to put the halt on Putin’s bandwagon before it spirals out of control. If this conflict is left unresolved then the consequences could potentially be devastating.