“It's not easy making a democracy,” James Mattis, the U.S. secretary of defense, told reporters on Sunday as he prepared to embark on his foreign tour. So far, it has taken him to Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, and, today, Ukraine. Today is also the 26th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union; the occasion will be marked with a military parade, and Mattis will be on hand to express continued U.S. support for the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to the Pentagon. Or, as Mattis put it himself, he is visiting Kiev “just to make certain … that they know we're aware of the values and what they're trying to put together coming out of the history they've had in the past,” he said on Monday. “It's not easy making a sovereign state, especially right now with the way Russia has been violating territorial integrity.”
Indeed. For over three years, Ukraine has been locked in a “hot war” with Russia-backed separatists, who control a significant portion of the nation’s eastern region. The fight has been raging ever since the 2014 Maidan Revolution, which resulted in the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych and the subsequent Russian annexation of Crimea. Despite the negotiated ceasefire, or the Minsk II agreement, which was implemented in February 2015, the nation has seen almost daily action on the front line, with over 10,000 casualties to date. In 2017 alone, 345 civilians were injured in fighting, 62 fatally, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The 13-point agreement requires an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry, prisoner exchanges, an amnesty for fighters, local elections in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and Ukrainian constitutional reform, among other provisions.