It was a kind of “raw shock test;” a sudden, and apparently 2-sided escalation of the so-called “frozen war” in the Ukraine into red hot violence. After months of sporadic and very small scale skirmishes, and repeated violations by both sides of the heavy weapons regime of the Minsk 2 Agreement, a small city called Avdiivka, right along the cease-fire line separating Ukraine from its pro-Russian secessionist eastern provinces, known as the Donbass became a battle zone.
The fighting lasted about a week, eradicated a lot of real estate and killed a couple dozen people. Militarily it was a pointless exercise; cruel, empty destruction and bloodshed. But frankly, that’s what both sides expected. Neither the Ukrainians nor the secessionists nor their Russian enablers expected anything different.
This was not a test of strength, nor were the Ukrainians on either side or the Russians being tested. Avdiivka was sacrificed to test the reactions of the new Presidential administration of Donald J Trump. And truth be told, this test was an utter failure.
The response of the American government to the temporary and limited outbreak of active warfare was so ambiguous, a less kind but perhaps more accurate adjective would be inert, that nobody seems to have any clearer sense of where Washington stands.
Which scares the Hell out of everyone. Politicians, diplomats and military planners from Moscow to Kiev to Washington are all saying they have no idea what President Trump wants, much less intends to do about Ukraine and a war whose costs are already high, but could easily escalate into something much worse.
Steven Pifer is director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He focuses on nuclear arms control, Ukraine, and Russia. He has offered commentary on these issues on National Public Radio, PBS NewsHour, CNN, AND Fox News, and his articles have run in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Financial Times, and Kyiv Post, among others. He is the author of “The Eagle and the Trident: U.S.-Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times” (Brookings Institution Press, Spring 2017). He was United States Ambassador to Ukraine FROM 1997 TO 2000