Ukraine Conflict Monitor, April 18-25, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • In 2015, the majority of newly naturalized citizens in five EU countries came from Ukraine. (RFE/RL, April 2017)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • In a letter to Congress, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “his administration is actively identifying persons and entities to whom the [Magnitsky] Act may apply and are collecting the evidence necessary to apply it.” “Over the coming weeks and months, agencies will undertake thorough interagency vetting to ensure we fulfill our commitment to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses and corruption accountable,” the letter said. (Russia Matters, 04.21.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • A scaled-down, two-man U.S.-Russian crew blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 20 for a six-hour ride to the International Space Station, a NASA TV broadcast showed. Russia is scaling back space station staffing until its long-delayed science laboratory is flown to the orbiting outpost next year. (Reuters, 04.20.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Russia's Foreign Ministry has claimed the death of a ceasefire monitor in eastern Ukraine was a “provocation” designed to jeopardize the peace process. U.S. paramedic Joseph Stone died when an explosion hit a vehicle for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the separatist-controlled Luhansk region on April 23. Two more people were injured in the blast, the OSCE confirmed. The OSCE has launched an internal investigation into the explosion, and OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier said on April 25 after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that other investigations will also be launched to find out who is responsible for the April 23 explosion. (The Moscow Times, 04.24.17, CNN, 04.25.17, RFE/RL, 04.25.17)

Impact of Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine on other countries

  • Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (39%) name Russia as the country that represents the greatest danger to the United States—the highest percentage expressing this view in nearly three decades, according to a new survey. Compared with 2013, the last time this question was asked, greater shares in both parties volunteer Russia as posing the greatest danger to the U.S.—but nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans now say this, with 39% versus 21%. (Pew Research Center, 04.20.17)
  • Countries in Central Europe showed the largest relative increases in military spending in 2016, at least partially as a result of the perceived increased threat from Russia, a new study says. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report released on April 23 that defense spending in Central Europe increased 2.6%, the largest amount relative to population. (RFE/RL, 04.23.17)
  • Some of the F-35A Lightning II aircraft currently at British air force station RAF Lakenheath are being deployed to Estonia. On Apr. 24, Royal Air Force Typhoons arrived at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase near Constanta, Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission. (Aviationist, 04.24.17)
  • Hundreds of U.S. Army and Romanian troops have joined forces for a live-fire exhibition featuring tanks and aircraft conducting battlefield maneuvers in Operation Atlantic Resolve, an exercise meant to allay concerns in Eastern Europe over an increasingly bellicose Russia. (AP, 04.20.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in reference to the original Cold War and current competition between Russia and West: "Two empires existed at that time—the Western and the Soviet ones. Each of them was fomenting conflicts with the adversary in third countries, but never on their borders and never directly. Even the public rhetoric was softer. Both camps never crossed the red lines back then. There are no rules anymore today.” (TASS, 04.25.15)

Factors and scenarios that could cause resumption of large-scale hostilities or lead to accident between Western and Russian forces in Europe:

  • Russian politician Frants Klintsevich has said Britain could be wiped “off the face of the Earth” if it launches a nuclear strike. He made the statement in response to radio comments made by British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon on April 24 in which Fallon discussed the possibility of a preemptive nuclear strike on Russia. (The Moscow Times, 04.25.17)
  • Russian military aircraft were spotted flying off the coast of Alaska for the fourth time in as many days, a U.S. defense official told CNN on April 21. Russian aircraft never entered U.S. airspace and it is unknown at this time whether the U.S. Air Force scrambled any aircraft in response to either occurrence. On April 17, U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers in international airspace 100 miles from Kodiak Island, Alaska. A U.S. military official called the interaction "safe and professional." (CNN, 04.21.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Scholars Thomas Graham, Rajan Menon and Jack Snyder wrote: “It is not far-fetched to think about Ukraine—a country whose name derives from the Slavic word for “borderland”—as a possible buer zone.” (World Policy Journal, Spring 2017)
  • Viktor Medvedchuk, who has emerged as a main intermediary between today’s pro-western Kiev government and Moscow, believes that a way out of the impasse could be for Ukraine’s parliament to pass laws granting limited autonomy to separatist-held regions and hold elections there, conditional on Russia fulfilling its Minsk requirements. (Financial Times, 04.25.17)
  • Moscow sees need for contacts between Russian and U.S. military and hopes for lifting restrictions in this sphere imposed by the previous U.S. administration, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (Interfax, 04.20.17)


  • While the Kremlin continues to publicly back the Minsk II accord that Germany and France oversaw in 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s real strategy in Ukraine is to fully separate the two border areas known as the Donbas through incremental integration with Russia, three people close to the leadership in Moscow said. He has no plans to recognize or annex the territories, they said. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17)
  • RAND Corporation political scientists Stephanie Pezard, Andrew Radin, Thomas S. Szayna and F. Stephen Larrabee wrote: “Despite appeals from NATO countries on Russia’s periphery, there is little support elsewhere in Europe for major deployments of NATO forces further forward or arming Ukraine.” (RAND, April 2017)
  • According to Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, Russia does not want a reemergence of the Soviet Union, but they want neighbors that defer to Moscow’s interests and are open to Russian business, not only because this is beneficial to the Russian economy, but also because these business interests are instruments for increasing Russian leverage along its periphery. (The National Interest, 04.19.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump’s vow to put “America first” includes a plan to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Foreign assistance to Ukraine, which is used to encourage political and economic reform, is facing a 68.8% cut.  The agency anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65%. (Business Insider, 04.24.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on April 23 to discuss his recent trip to Moscow and his message to the Russian leadership that, although the United States is interested in improving relations with Russia, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle. (U.S. Department of State, 04.23.17)
  • In a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed U.S. support for efforts led by Germany and France to negotiate a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the White House said on April 24. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17)
  • According to two unnamed European officials, the Trump administration is expected to appoint a new special envoy to negotiate the fate of war-torn Ukraine directly with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin once known as the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal.” A U.S. official acknowledged that “there is currently a discussion of the idea,” but said “no final decisions have been made.” "Today, just as on the question of the so-called 'deadlock-resolution group,' to use your term, we have no idea who in the U.S. will be responsible for this Ukrainian issue on a daily basis," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant. (BuzzFeed News, 04.21.17, Interfax, 04.20.17)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has vowed to use Moscow’s influence to get Ukraine’s separatist rebels to comply with a cease-fire deal. Lavrov made the promise at a news conference April 24 with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after talks in Moscow. The European Union's top diplomat said on April 24 that the bloc wanted better ties with Russia but could not pretend Moscow did not annex Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and that EU sanctions would stay in place. (Reuters, 04.24.17, AP, 04.24.17)
  • Responding to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s observation that Russia’s foreign policy concept calls for strategic partnership with the European Union, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “It would be absurd to consider each other strategic partners and have mutual approval—this is not the kind of relationship that partners usually have.” (Russia Matters, 04.24.17)
  • The Kremlin says Russia will supply electricity to separatist-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian government cut off the power because of unpaid bills. (AP, 04.25.17)
  • The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 25 in Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry said talks with Lamberto Zannier would focus on efforts to end the Ukraine conflict. Zannier cut his visit short due to the recent death of an OSCE employee in Ukraine. Following the meeting, Lavrov said that security of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should be tightened and coordination between the mission and the parties to the conflict should be enhanced. (RFE/RL, 04.25.17, TASS, 04.25.17, TASS, 04.25.17)
  • Hacked emails show that the Kremlin directs and funds the ostensibly independent republics in eastern Ukraine and runs military operations there, according to Atlantic Council. (Atlantic Council, 04.24.17)
  • The International Court of Justice rejected a Ukrainian request for an order labeling Russia a sponsor of terrorism for its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. While many civilians have been killed or injured in the conflict, Ukraine hasn’t presented “evidence which affords a sufficient basis to find it plausible” that Russia is financing terrorism in rebel-held areas with “intention and knowledge,” the court in The Hague said in a ruling published April 19. Russia's Foreign Ministry has hailed the ruling. (Bloomberg, 04.19.17, RFE/RL, 04.20.17)
  • Ukrainian Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk said in an interview April 20 that his government might wait until the fall to seek around $1 billion in the international bond market, following the enactment of long-delayed pension and land overhauls he hopes will be completed in the next month. (Wall Street Journal, 04.20.17)