Russia supports the separatists with sophisticated weaponry, ammunition and soldiers, according to Western governments, but Moscow has denied doing so. Despite the static state of the war, the Line of Contact remains a potential flash point for Russia’s relations with the West — and a possible early foreign policy challenge for the Biden administration if things heat up.
Because it divides villages and towns in eastern Ukraine by East-West politics rather than any significant ethnic or sectarian divide, the Line of Contact is sometimes called a new Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe.
Representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe negotiated the cease-fire in July, one that has held longer than dozens of others that have been made over the past seven years. Eight cease-fires have broken down since 2018 alone.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have also escalated along the de facto border between the two countries at the isthmus of the Crimean Peninsula, which is to the south and west of the Line of Contact, and which was annexed by Russian forces in 2014.
In February, the Russian military announced rehearsals of paratrooper drops in Crimea that commentators in Russia and Ukraine saw as possibly telegraphing a fresh Russian incursion. The target this time: water canals supplying Crimea from the Dnieper River in Ukraine.
Ukraine cut off the supply of water from the river when Russia annexed the peninsula. Since then, water has been so scarce that a majority of residents in Crimea do not have round-the-clock supplies, according to the Interfax news agency. Most towns ration supplies by turning off water mains except for brief windows in the mornings and evenings.
The Russian military described the exercise with 3,000 paratroopers as practicing “seizure of the enemies’ objects with subsequent defense until uniting with the main force.” It did not mention water canals. The exercise also practiced marine landings by the Black Sea Fleet.