Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky has been in power for less than two months, and already he is taking steps to fulfill one of his most ambitious campaign promises: to resolve the intractable conflict with Russia in the country's east.
"With the change in administration, something moved," noted Sokol Bega, deputy head of reporting and political analysis at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, according to Newsweek. "This week is, maybe, a turning point."
In late June, Ukrainian troops abandoned their position along the so-called contact line that separates the occupied Donbas from the rest of Ukraine. The country's military withdrew around 500 meters from the line of contact, an unprecedented move in a longstanding conflict marked daily skirmishes and ceasefire violations. Military formations controlled by the Russian-backed "Luhansk People's Republic" (LPR) also allegedly withdrew from their positions near the urban settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska.
Zelensky proclaimed that this disengagement is a clear sign that the Minsk process, an agreement signed between Ukraine, Russia, and the representatives of the occupied Donbas, has been unblocked despite numerous ceasefire violations. He also announced that Ukraine would soon begin to rebuild a bridge that connects the occupied territory to the rest of Ukraine. The government under former President Poroshenko had been promising to rebuild the bridge for years, but no steps had been taken due to security risks.
Shortly after the troop withdrawal, Zelensky called for renewed negotiations with Russia over the conflict, and even floated the idea of speaking directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
People in Ukraine told Newsweek that these moves would have been impossible under former President Poroshenko, who was held captive by anti-Russian rhetoric that made it impossible for him to make concessions. On the contrary, Zelensky has demonstrated that eastern Ukraine is not a frozen conflict after all.
"Zelensky has to show that he is doing something," one European diplomat in Ukraine's capital Kyiv told Newsweek, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Volodymir Ohryzko, former foreign minister of Ukraine, argues that, despite Zelensky's determination to solve the conflict, Kyiv will need more international support if it is going to protect its sovereignty and reclaim the territory lost to Russian occupation forces.
"There are two ways for a war to end: to win the war or not," Ohryzko said. "Russia is an immediate global threat and Ukraine's position is very weak."