Zakharchenko interrupted OSCE’s Hug when the latter claimed Zakharchenko was responsible for implementing Minsk to tell him that his first responsibility was to defend the people of the DPR. Zakharchenko also point blank refused to remove any heavy or light weapons from the front line until Ukraine does so. Plotnitsky, meanwhile, had interrupted Hug to ask him if he had ever had to live his life under constant shelling. All in all, the two have clearly been told they can harden their line in relation both to OSCE & to Ukraine. There have been other signs of a hardening of positions too. In addition to Putin signing the decree on temporary recognition of official documents issued by the DPR and LPR authorities, there has also been the highly publicised appointment of a prominent Russian writer, Zakhar Prilepin, to a position of some military significance in the DPR hierarchy. There have been public rallies staged in Sevastopol in the Crimea in support of formal, official recognition of the Donbass republics, as well as an attempt to organise a petition calling for the same. Further rallies are planned for St. Petersburg, and one for Moscow (although the city authorities actually turned down the application for one in front of the State Duma in Moscow. Organizers have said they will attempt to apply again). Presumably other cities will follow suit. In Rostov-on-Don the city’s Liberation Day was celebrated with large numbers of citizens waving DPR and LPR flags.
If there is anybody who believes this is because of the “total blockade” of the Donbass by Ukrainian “radicals”, then I’ve got some magic beans I’ll happily sell you for £1,000 a piece.
My best guess would be that two things in particular have pushed the harder line. Firstly, a realisation (hopefully) that the Trump administration is not a “friendly” one and is certainly not prepared to relinquish the enormous asset it has inherited in the form of the Ukraine (a realisation in Moscow, I should say). Secondly, the Donbass has been living under a near total blockade for three years now. The only difference at the present time is that coal shipments have been blocked from crossing the front-lines. That represents a direct threat to the interests of the Ukraine’s biggest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov has very good (and very powerful) friends in Moscow. It was largely in order to save his (business) skin—and also to save Poroshenko in Kiev—that Moscow prevented the Donbass Army (Novorossiya Armed Forces, NAF) from seizing an empty Mariupol from which the Ukrainian Army and Nazi battalions were in headlong retreat—to the extent that Sweden and the Ukraine’s favourite trash Viking furniture-removals man was openly asking twitter whether it thought he should either run or surrender immediately to “Russian forces” when they arrived.
Another possible factor in the hardening of the line by Zakharchenko, Plotnitsky and (apparently) Moscow, might be the recent progress made by the Ukraine in its relations with the EU. In return for throwing open Ukraine’s timber resources to the plunder by European (and no doubt also to US) capital, Poroshenko was told that the EU would finalise the visa-free regime with the Ukraine at some point in this coming summer.
Whether this new disposition will translate into a less passive military stance by the NAF towards the Ukrainian Army, nothing seems yet to have translated into an altered military posture by DPR or LPR forces. And artillery, mortar and small-arms attacks are continuing on most fronts.