Trump-Putin ties now seen as key to peace in eastern Ukraine

Escalating violence in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks has underlined the importance that Donald Trump now plays in the region, with the U.S. president promising to restore peace after a phone call with the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Trump has signaled his intent to have a closer relationship with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. And with an open line of communication with Poroshenko, Trump could well prove to be instrumental.

The Ukrainian conflict "has never been at the forefront" for Western leaders and with the raft of elections across the European Union in 2017, the issue is unlikely to be a priority, Andrius Tursa, an advisor on central and eastern European issues at analysis firm Teneo Intelligence told CNBC.

This is likely to leave the Ukrainian war even more in the hands of the U.S.

The war in eastern Ukraine has seen an increase in fighting since last week, particularly in the cities of Donbass and Avdiivka. Russia still denies involvement in the conflict despite evidence to suggest that the country has supplied arms – and even troops – to pro-Russian separatists in the region.


"A recent outburst in fighting in the Donbass, observed since January 28, follows a cyclical pattern of intensification and de-escalation, characteristic to this conflict," Tursa said in a note out last Friday.

The number of shelling attacks has surged in recent weeks and the number of causalities has grown as a result of the usage of heavier weapons, according to EU officials.

"A frozen-conflict in the Donbass serves Russia's goals of preventing Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO. A more sustainable settlement would likely entail a wider agreement between Russia and Western powers, including the U.S.," Tursa said.

He added that Russia has offered help to the U.S. in fighting terrorism, "potentially seeking concessions on sanctions or its actions in central and eastern Europe."

For now, the U.S. seems unwilling to ease sanctions on Russia for its activities in Ukraine. However, there are contradictory signs from the new U.S. administration on how it wants its ties with Russia to develop.

Last week, the U.S. United Nations envoy Nikki Haley condemned Russia's "aggressive actions" in Ukraine, but over the weekend Trump seemed to defend President Putin in an interview with Fox News. Meanwhile, European foreign ministers are gathering in Brussels Monday where they are expected to call on Moscow once again to restrict the capacities of the Russian-backed separatists.