The World

Are We About to See a Final Showdown Between Ukraine and the Rebels?

Pro-Russian militants sit on a tank on July 27, 2014, in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, as they drive to the front line south of the city.

Photo by Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

At the same time that investigators are struggling to reach the site where Flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian troops appear to be making serious headway against separatist rebels in the area. Ukrainian troops have launched an operation to retake the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and there was apparently fighting in half a dozen towns nearby yesterday. Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, has apparently left the city for Russia.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say Russia appears to be “preparing to arm the rebels with more high-powered weaponry than it has previously supplied, including tanks, armored vehicles, and powerful Tornado multiple rocket launchers.” The State Department has released images that it says show rocket fire from Russia into Ukraine.

Though the economic damage absorbed by Russia due to the Ukraine crisis has been severe and there are rumors of splits emerging within the country’s economic elite, the Russian government doesn’t appear to be cutting back its support for the rebels. If Ukrainian troops continue advancing on the rebel-held cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, while the rebels continue to be supplied with advanced weaponry, it seems likely that we could soon see increasingly deadly clashes.

The U.N. warned recently that “[a] total breakdown of law and order and a reign of fear and terror have been inflicted by armed groups on the population of eastern Ukraine.” That was before the shoot-down of MH17 and before the recent offensive.

It’s possible that the conflict is nearing a final resolution, but it seems likely to get worse before it gets better.

Read more of Slate’s coverage on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.