Donbas | The Russian Separatist Conflict in Eastern Ukraine

3 weeks ago

The build up of Russia’s armed forces on the border of Ukraine in April 2021 once again served to emphasise that the conflict in eastern Ukraine – an area known as the Donbas – has still not been resolved. Now entering its eighth year, the separatist uprising by pro-Russian rebels has cost thousand of lives and displaced over one and a half mission people, and yet shows little sign of coming to an end. So, what is the conflict in eastern Ukraine about? And how and why is Russia involved?

Hello and welcome! My name is James Ker-Lindsay. On this channel, I take an informed look at International Relations with a focus on territorial conflicts, secession, independence movements and new countries. If you find it useful, please consider subscribing or even donating. Thank you.


In many ways, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine looks like a traditional civil war. Pro-Russian separatists, unhappy at the strategic direction Ukraine is taking rose up against the Ukrainian government, establishing their own breakaway territories, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. But behind this lies a rather different conflict. In truth, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine in fact bears all the hallmarks of a proxy war. Having taken control of Crimea just weeks before the start of the uprising in the Donbas there seems to be little doubt that Russia has been driving this conflict from the start.

0:00 Introduction and Titles
0:43 Civil Wars and Proxy Wars
1:26 Geography and Demographics of Ukraine
2:42 The emergence of an independent Ukraine
4:44 Tensions between Russia and Ukraine
6:42 The Start of the Conflict in the Donbas
9:25 Continuing Tensions in Ukraine
10:12 Ukraine as a Russian Proxy War

Current Issues and Disputes
Secession and Independence in the Post-Soviet Space


1994 Budapest Memorandum
Minsk Protocol
Package of Measures (Minsk II)
The Conflict in Ukraine
In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine


Secession and State Creation: What Everyone Needs to Know [PRE-ORDER]
The Cyprus Problem: What Everyone Needs to Know
Kosovo: The Path to Contested Statehood in the Balkans
The Foreign Policy of Counter-Secession
My other books


Research Gate


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The Struggle Continues

49 thoughts on “Donbas | The Russian Separatist Conflict in Eastern Ukraine”

  1. After weeks of rising tensions, Russia has announced that it is standing down its troops on Ukraine's border. However, while an immediate crisis seems to have been averted, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine remains. So, how do you see the situations developing?

  2. The US and NATO overtly interfere in a war and occupy 12% of the territory of Serbia and no one bats an eye. Russia covertly interferes in a war and occupies 7% of the territory of Ukraine and everyone loses their minds.

  3. Thank you so much for this video! I'm from Eastern Ukraine and this is the most sensitive to me of all your videos. I can only fully agree with your conclusions, just adding that the unrest in the spring of 2014 was also secretly organised by Russian agents and some Ukrainian oligarchs. Unlike the truly people's Euromaidan movement. But even taking into account all this, if we do not look at the past, but only at the current situation, then I do not see the difference between Transnistria and the republics of Donbas. Yes, Transnistria has its own quasi-currency, and in Donbas Russian rubles are circulated, but this is perhaps the only difference. In all de-facto states Russian passports is distributed, and the Kremlin completely controls everything from defense to the appointment of individual ministers. Therefore I do not understand why to treat them differently. Either all three republics meet the Montevideo criteria, or all three do not.

  4. Hi James, What do you think about the current situation in Belarus and what’s the Belarusian President going to announce after his assassination attempt on his life, and do you think that the announcement will be a reunification of Russia and Belarus?

  5. Fun Fact:Ukraine surrender it's nukes to Russia and in return they wanted Russia to respects it's Territory and sovereignty but we all know how that worked out.

  6. The Steinmeier proposal was very baffling coming from a NATO country. I suppose it would solidify German influence in the region quite cleanly without disrupting Russia. Then again, Steinmeier is very close to Schroder, and we all know how friendly he is to Putin.

    On the one hand, I'm skeptical that any movement Ukraine makes towards NATO especially (less so the EU, though I may be wrong on that end) will do anything but amplify the most militant voices on the Ukrainian side of the equation. Of course, they need the support, but if the Russian-speakers have any legitimate grievances, they should be heard. These grievances certainly didn't come from nowhere, as the east is very industrial and poor. But on the other hand, I am no fan of Putin, and he obviously cares very little besides those warm water ports. It's well known unemployment in the breakaway regions is sky-high, as is misinformation. A most toxic relationship, but it's almost inevitable with breakaway regions. It's quite funny, I remember hearing Putin propose a federal solution for Ukraine, when he himself has centralized Russian authority in the republics (to say nothing of the brutalities of flattening Grozny in the Second Chechen War).

    I'm not sure how things go on from here, but it seems things are calming down. Thankfully, the conflict isn't that old, so fewer fait accomplis have to be dealt with. On the other hand, the populations are near a superpower, so any settlement will mean very rigid terms for Ukraine.

  7. …you r pushing the western narrrative… you didnt mension the CIA orange coup against Viktor Yanekovich… you didnt mension the neocon NATO expansion agenda either… ask Victoria Nuland or Her hardcore necon husband for some perspective…

  8. If Ukraine were to join NATO would it be forced to fight against Russia due to article 5? I mean Russia is occupying it's territory. Also fascinating video James. I would love to see your take on the Georgian Russian client states Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well. As a little kid back in 2008, I vaguely remember the news reports back during the Russo Georgian conflict but I was too young to understand and so would love to know what it was about and why it happened along with context. Anyway keep up the good work!

  9. That was pretty good up to 6.30 minutes in, where you either deliberately or unknowingly missed the whole part about the US backed coup, deaths of pro Russian people in Odessa and Korsun, attempted terrorist attacks on Crimea and the rise of the nazi elements. These things are what made the Crimean and Donbass people vote to return to Russia.

    I think it's a very important part and had nothing to do with Russia being involved.

    Crimea voted for independence and then asked Russia to allow it to return (I have a house and family in Crimea since 2008, so was there).

    Donbass wanted the same but Poroshenko sent troops instead of negotiators, resulting in the mess there is now. They are a self declared republics and Russia respects their choice and will protect the Russian speaking Ukrainian people by any means possible.

    The Minsk agreements have been ignored by Kiev and the civilians are being shelled and shot at every day. Kiev keeps blaming Russia for these attacks and says Russia is bombing their own people to blame them. Which sounds more true? To find the truth, look at the reaction of Kiev towards the Minsk agreements. They don't want them and never have.

    Anyway… Now, Kiev is being told what to do from Washington and the nazi section is keeping on the killing of civilians, so Zelensky is just a talking head without any power.

  10. For better or for worse, Russia is in compliance with international law. "All peoples have the right of and to self-determination." As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Russia is fulfilling its obligation to promote the realization of the right of self-determination of the peoples of the respective territories in which they interfere. Ukraine is bound by the same obligation and has failed to comply.

    Furthermore, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples provides that "[i]mmediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or colour, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom." It further provides that "[a]ny attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations." Thus, the obligation for UN member states, including Russia as well as Ukraine, to "transfer ALL powers to the peoples" is not limited to Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories, but includes territories within existing States. Moreover, the obligation to respect the national UNITY and territorial integrity of a COUNTRY supersedes the territorial protections available to a STATE, particularly a divided one. In granting citizenship to the very people Russia seeks to liberate, as a means to meet their obligation to intervene while remaining in technical compliance with international law, Russia has implemented a creative solution, irrespective of the fact that Russia may very well be simultaneously serving its own interests – which is entirely its prerogative pursuant to its inherent sovereign rights. Similarly, the United States would argue that it was in compliance with international law when it dropped two nuclear bombs on innocent Japanese civilians and the world has essentially acquiesced to that position. However, it doesn't make it right, nor does it absolve them of responsibility or accountability. The same applies to Russia.

  11. I've been to both Russia and Ukraine in 2016/2018.

    I saw a lot of spoils of war in Ukraine of Russian equipment they had taken.

    Ukraine just wants to ment closer ties to NATO/EU. Breakaway from the chains of the USSR, even after the Soviet dissolution, only the Central Asian nations, Armenia and Azerbijian tend to have good ties to Russia (and lets not forget Belarus open border with Russia).

  12. "[Russia's] annexation of Crimea was a dangerous violation of international norms"

    Since when is a stronger country dominating a weaker country considered dangerous? Perhaps only because it weakens States' arbitrary claims to territorial integrity as being superior to the legitimate claims made by the actual People of the territory. Perhaps because it gives the United States a valid excuse to attack or sanction other countries that foolishly follow Russia's precedent while powerful countries like the United States, Russia and China get away with it with impunity.

    Russia's annexation of Crimea is only dangerous because States and Peoples fail to respond appropriately to it by empowering ALL the Peoples within their OWN borders rather than pointing the finger at other States' failures to do the same or condemning States like Russia for its failure to respect State sovereignty. It comes down to doing the right thing even if you aren't forced to.

  13. You forgot to tell how President Turchinov sent paramilitary forces (Azov grouping and other nationalists belonging to the Right Sector, among others) to the Donbass to crush demonstrations that opposed the coup and removal of the democratically elected president, which had an overwhelming support in the Donbass region. Those paramilitary forces escalated the violence in Donbass and Turchinov decided to send the military there to help crush the "terrorists" as the protesters were called by Kiev. Cannons, tanks and airstrikes were used against the protesters and the war was a fact.

  14. Hi James, greetings from Serbia!
    So what is going on in Ukraine?
    Is it only Russian involving? Why Russia have interst to make problems in her neighbourhood? Because Russia wants to have war, refugees, sanctions and problems?!! Are they masochist? Who is behind of " maidan revolution?
    Let's be honest for just once!!!! OK?
    Russia didn't have any influence in Ukraine violence in Kiev 2014.
    After that all problems began! Russian speaking population don't want to live in country run by nationalist sponsored by NATO!!!
    And now we coming to the important factor – NATO!!!!
    NATO actually have enormous nomber of military basees around Russia!! And that is not enough for them!! NATO is trying to use Ukraine now for additional pressure on Russia. They will fight against Russia to the least drop off UKRAINE blood!! Not there's!!
    Before Russian build-up of military forces on Ukrainian border, actually – Ukraine started to send they army on Donbas in first place. And you know who give them that idea? And promise them support, in case of Russian involvement? Yes, NATO!! And, do you really think that NATO will keep their promise?!! Remember Georgia!!!
    Why Russia think that NATO is dangerous?
    Beacose the are NOT IDIOTS!!! Everyone knows how many times NATO broke their promises, how many military bases are installed around Russian borders!!! All ower East Europe!!!
    Who supported violence in Belarus? Who supported assassination of president Lukasenko?
    Is this how "democracy" is made?
    Imagine situation that Russia starts to create military bases in Canada and Mexico? Imagine situation when Russia supports secession of Havai, or Texas?!
    And now let's remind what happened in my country – Serbia.
    In Serbia, NATO supported separatist in Kosovo and Metohia, they even bombed my country because we wanted to fight against terrorism.
    But, in Ukraine they are against separation of Donbas and Lugansk?! Who is crazy here?
    When Kosovo declared independence – for NATO that is OK!
    But when Crimea declared unification with Russia, NATO is strongly against?!
    Again and again, main problem for world security is NATO and American military complex. When they want war, they will create one!! And naturally blame Russia for everything.

  15. So the Minsk 2 agreement was never actually agreed to by the Ukraine? I had no idea about that, I thought it was a mutual agreement.

    James – how do we guarantee the human rights of the sizeable Russian population in the separatist regions if they were reintegrated into Ukraine? Do you really believe that is possible

  16. When it is about Russians in Ukraine it is "proxy war". When Turkey does far worst things in Cyprus it is an "inter-communal conflict". Why isn't the "solution" for Ukraine a federation between Ukrainians and Russians with a 50%-50% power share?

  17. Please make a video on non-colonial examples of the jus cogens right of self-determination as affirmed in the UN Charter such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union into 15 separate sovereign entites, the dissolution of Yugoslavia into 7 separate sovereign entites, or the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak Republics, as precedents for Ukraine and Russia to follow. Per paragraph 80 of the Advisory Opinion on Kosovo, the principle of territorial integrity is confined to the relations between States. Thus Russia must respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. HOWEVER, ALL Peoples within Ukraine are free to violate Ukraine's territorial integrity in pursuit of their jus cogens right of self-determination and ALL UN member states, including Russia AND Ukraine, are obligated to promote the realization of the right of self-determination of such Peoples. Therefore, if Ukraine was not in violation of its obligations under international law, Russia would have no excuse to interfere in such a manner. By doing so, Russia is merely emphasizing the fact that self-determination is NOT confined to colonial situations. ("or all other territories which have not yet attained independence"… i.e. former Soviet territories, etc.). " 'Self determination' is not a mere phrase, it is an imperative principle of action which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril." -President Woodrow Wilson.

  18. I always found it a curious coincidence, (or maybe not) that Crimea was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954, the year that the 300th anniversary of the Agreement of Pereyaslav was celebrated as a treaty between the Cossacks and Russian tsar, effectively creating an unbreakable bond of Slavic brotherhood between the countries. Sadly, it hasn't lasted.

  19. Bullcrap….you fail to mention that the coup was organised by the Americans and that it was led by Nazis ,including the fact that Yankavitch barely escaped with his life ,also excluded is the anti Russian language laws Nazi like….you my friend are so so full of shi#

  20. Thanks for this video Jeames, as always! I found it very interesting and it was quite a good moment. I'm kind of nervous as I'm taking a competitive exam this afternoon to study in Sciences Po, hope I will do well ! The themes are secrets and revolutions and some of your videos about revolutions have helped me to gain some knowledge about this very wide theme! Thanks for your work, and wish me luck haha!

  21. I assume the British equivalent of the CIA paid you well for this propaganda piece James. Out of interest how much did they pay you? I love the way you ignore the coup against the Ukrainian president supported by the west and claim that we gave up Crimea. No we didn't. The transfer by the "Soviet leadership" who were actually Ukrainian themselves was completely unfair and illigetimate. It's good that the Crimeans practiced their right to self determination to vote to join us then when it goes against western countries BANG ITS ILLEGAL! So so unfair… I know I have been unfair to you in the past. But come on you have to admit that this was propaganda, you can do better than that James…

  22. Should have touched on, how the locals who are not apart of the proxy forces are fairing up in the region with a major water shortage, as for the Russian people they are looking at approx annual payments of 102 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) to support 68 percent of the budget of Crimea. That figure is larger than the subsidies going to Dagestan and Chechnya: 96.7 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) and 78.8 billion rubles ($1.1 billion), respectively which asks ?  Is Crimea Now Costing Russia More Than It Is Worth?

  23. Oh, please! This is not analysis, this sounds like you are reading a pamphlet written by Victoria Nuland. And that EU flag in the background really helps cement your credibility, LOL.

  24. Hi James! I was absent from your channel for some time and now I see that I've missed very interesting videos! I'm really glad to see that you covered this topic and I would like to hear your opinion on future development of this issue? Whether another war is possible or not? And what could be Russian motives for intensifying the conflict there?

  25. Ukraine just banned Russian language in whole country.
    Even though, there is at least 10 % of ethnic Russians and about 30-35 % of Russian speaking people in the territory under Kiev controll.
    Is that democratic?
    Imagine if something like that happens in Europe, imagine Romania banning Hungarian language, or Spain banning Catalan language.
    They also ban any, even minimally pro-Russian party.
    Also, Ukraine withdrew from the Minsk Agreement and the political leadership of Ukraine, due to the huge pressure from the right, refused to give any federal status to Donbas.

    And then they wonder when Russia is accumulating troops at the borders…

  26. Great analysis Dr. Kerr-Lindsay. I have been following the Russian occupation of Ukraine closely and appreciate your input to the situation. This kind of international blackmail and intrigue is also displayed by the Russian Federation (Putin) in Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan among others. The international community should call him out on this kind of blatant behavior by Putin and stop allowing him to make the lame excuses. This is what he understands, raw power and direct confrontation, without the threat of military of course as this would not be acceptable either.

  27. Great video as always! I’ve looked forward to your take on this one for a while. I’ve been following this since the beginning and your summation is right on accurate.

    It seems the only way Russia will give up on the Donbas puppet states is if they are granted a Republika Srpska-type arrangement, so that Russia can use them as a proxy within the State of Ukraine itself.

    Interesting to note, as some of the speculation is that a future Russian advance would be to gain a land bridge to Crimea or even Transnistria, that Russia actually did try to foment additional secessions in other cities at the same time as the Donbas, all within that aforementioned eastern-southern belt of Russian speakers connecting Donetsk to Crimea to Transnistria. They tried and failed to establish a Kharkov People’s Republic, an Odessa People’s Republic, and I believe a couple others, possibly Mariupol. But these were all put down.

    One other thing is that the two puppet states which did come into existence, Donetsk and Luhansk, eventually announced they were going to merge into one state, and supposedly this new entity, “Novorossiya”, would be annexed into the Russian Federation as a federal subject. They even had an initial joint session of the two parliaments I believe.

    Supposedly the reason it never went any further was because of the Dutch-Malaysia airline shootdown over the puppet Donetsk Republic. It was later of course confirmed via social media posts that Donetsk Republic forces had accidentally shot down the plane thinking it was a Ukrainian cargo plane, with investigations later proving the missiles came from the DNR forces. Russia was forced to distance itself from the Donbas regimes for a while, and even long term until the present cannot pursue the Novorossiya project due to sensitivity about the shootdown.

  28. I think you totally confused about the history…… just becuz kiev was in 9th century in doesn’t mean ukrainian people also existed in the 9th century….. 9th century is when russia started to exist that's why it used to be called kievan-rus, cossacks (ukrainians) created mainly from exiled criminals, serfs and unwanted people from russia, poland, ottoman many years later … the very beginning, the russian territory included mainly moscow, large parts of kiev and few others… russia gained more & more territory a lot of russians started to shift to those specially when st Petersburg was created….

  29. I've only just discovered this channel and its by far already the best political and international relations themed channel I've found on YouTube. I'm currently a third-year undergraduate student studying Politics and International Relations and I can honestly say this channel is hands down better than the vast majority of academic materials given out by the lecturers at my university. Thank you so much for making such informative, entertaining and accessible videos! I'm definitely subscribing! 🙂

  30. no mention of US led coup nor the promises of NATO to refrain from eastern rapprochement. Failure to mention the coup also featured proud symbol wearing Neo nazies taking over goverment buildings and sending out messages for eastern Ukraine to do the same. That Crimea held a referendum that similar to the referendum you did mention but even better turn out had a %95 vote to return to Russia, The Donbass area I'm less familiar with but I do know that part of the Hunter controversy not mentioned when faking outrage to his salary is the reason he was on the board was to be a minder and be certain the money loaned would continue to be spent on arms to fight in donbass
    You speak clearly and with authority, unfortunately when someone leaves out key details that by your obvious level of education and your betrayed familiarity with the situation I'm forced to see you as a pure propagandist and not a real objective source. You can take sides this I understand and I know Russia is not clear of all wrong but to support the narrative without full disclosure makes you an enabler and complicit.
    You then commit about current levels of military, further offensive since 1st Ukraine was building up resources in the area, 2nd the US ahad just sent massive amounts of equipment to the area and rd because it is now obvious the entire event was theater to distract and put in place cyber platforms in the black sea for the coup of Belarus. the 4 ships were the cyber shut down mechanism, having Russians army distracted chasing paper tigers was only a part of the theater.
    I am certain there are a million facts that no one knows except the top level of authority and world economic pressures often overrule current national scenes. To this I am also always willing to reconsider my opinions. It is your presentation that frustrates me to ne end. When I see MSM contribute to narrative I Expect it. Like leaders going wwf on weekend talk shows. When independent media that is acting factual gives propaganda I cringe

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