On the front line in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv forces doubt that talks that begin Monday between Washington and Moscow will make much difference to the conflict between them and pro-Russian separatists.
“It will not worsen the situation (…) But it will not change Putin’s policy,” Mikhaïlo, a 29-year-old soldier with a thick mustache, told AFP in his trench not far from the city from Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region.
“Considering that the war in the East has been going on for eight years already, and in view of the previous negotiations, I doubt that things will change. His policies (in Putin) absolutely cannot be influenced,” he adds. .
US and Russian officials are due to hold a meeting in Geneva on Monday to discuss the situation in Ukraine and security in Europe, amid heightened tensions.
Kiev and the West indeed accuse Russia of having massed tens of thousands of soldiers and heavy equipment on the border of Ukraine in anticipation of a possible invasion, which Moscow denies.
For its part, the Russian government accuses NATO of being the cause of the current tensions, and in particular demands legal guarantees which would rule out the possibility of Ukraine’s future membership of the Atlantic Alliance.
“Guarantees on non-membership in NATO will not stop (Mr. Poutin)”, thinks Mikhaïlo. “He wants to return to a Soviet Union 2.0,” he adds.
On the ground, these tensions are reflected in incessant harassment fire from the separatists, say the Ukrainian military.
– “Permanent provocation” –
Under the shelter of stacked sandbags, a soldier scans enemy positions with a periscope while two colleagues enlarge the trench with shovels.
“The enemy is constantly provoking us with fire,” including mortar and machine gun fire, said Dmitro, another 29-year-old soldier with blue eyes and drawn features. “Endlessly,” he adds, his hands buried between his jacket and bulletproof vest to protect them from the biting cold.
“We are always ready” to repel possible attacks, adds Mikhaïlo, the first soldier, camouflage helmet on his head and assault rifle slung over his shoulder.
Eastern Ukraine has been torn since 2014 by a war between Kiev and the separatists supported, despite its denials, by Russia. The conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives, erupted after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Mikhaïlo, the Ukrainian soldier, says the separatists have deployed equipment “on a much larger scale” than in recent months.
However, he assures us that the Ukrainian army, which was overwhelmed in 2014, is “ready” this time. “We can hold back the enemy,” he assures us. “The most important thing is to have someone behind us to support us.”
– Mistrust –
Ukraine has received, inter alia, ammunition, ships, American Javelin anti-tank missile devices and medical supplies from the United States.
“These Javelins are a wonderful thing,” smiles Mikhaïlo.
The United States, which has ruled out any military intervention to support Ukraine, has however increased the assurances of support in recent weeks.
Last month, US President Joe Biden threatened his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin with sanctions “unlike any other” in the event of further aggression against Ukraine, with Moscow retorting that he would make a “colossal mistake” .
Talks in Geneva promise to be tense. On Sunday, Russia said it was “disappointed” by recent Western statements and said it would make “no concessions”.
Either way, Mikhaïlo is suspicious. “Knowing our enemy, I am 100% sure that the talks will not tip in our favor,” he said.
“And even if they manage to agree on something”, he adds, “the agreements with Russia are not even worth the paper on which they are printed”.