Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Aug. 1-8, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation on Aug. 2 imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, but asserted that the measure included ''clearly unconstitutional provisions'' and left open the possibility that he might choose not to enforce them as lawmakers intended. Like past presidents, Trump protested that Congress was improperly interfering with his power to set foreign policy, in this case by imposing waiting periods before he can suspend or remove sanctions. ''Yet despite its problems,'' Trump added, ''I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity.” The bill provides for new sanctions on companies involved in Russian financed off-shore oil projects and oil and gas pipeline construction. The bill lists 12 types of sanctions that can be imposed and obliges the president to use at least five in many cases against those affected. They can include freezing assets, such as property, revoking U.S. visas and banning exports from the U.S. to those sanctioned. Some of the measures are discretionary and most White House watchers believe Trump will not take action against Russia's energy infrastructure. This would allow Gazprom's two big pipeline projects to go ahead, although at a higher price and with some delays. (Reuters, 08.03.17, New York Times, 08.02.17, CNN, 08.02.17, AP, 08.02.17)
  • Russia will speed up work on reducing dependency on U.S. payment systems and the dollar as a settling currency, RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying Aug. 7. It is a response to the new sanctions against Russia reluctantly signed into law last week by Trump. (Reuters, 08.07.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • From Aug. 1 to Aug. 8, one Ukrainian soldier has been killed and four wounded, and one separatist soldier has been killed. Four civilians were killed by two separate grenade explosions in the Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk regions late on Aug. 5. Two other civilians were wounded by Ukrainian army fire on Aug. 4. The press service of Ukraine's security operation (ATO) headquarters reported Aug. 5 that a militant detonated a grenade at one of the rebel units, resulting in killing himself and wounding three others. As many as 3,178 Ukrainian army servicemen have been killed since the beginning of the operation in eastern Ukraine. (BBC Monitoring Ukraine and Baltics, 08.02.17, 08.04.17, 08.05.17, 08.06.17, TASS, 08.04.17, 08.08.17, Interfax, 08.08.17)
  • The EU has widened sanctions against Russian companies and persons over the illegal diversion of four Siemens gas turbines from southern Russia to Crimea. EU diplomats on Aug. 4 said Deputy Energy Minister Andrei Cherezov and a department head at the ministry, Yevgeny Grabchak, have been added to the sanctions list for “actions undermining Ukraine's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.” (RFE/RL, 08.04.17)
  • The Russian food embargo comes at a price. Official statistics show that food prices have increased 1.5 times in the last three years after Russia banned imports of many European foodstuffs. (Reuters, 08.08.17)

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

  • The Republic of Macedonia’s new government is stepping up efforts to join NATO, the country’s defense minister said. (Bloomberg, 08.08.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Asked about a specific red line he and the president have for Russia, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called it "a really great question" but declined to answer, instead criticizing the Obama administration for not following through on the red line it set with Syria on using chemical weapons. Pence said if Russia understands that the U.S. backs its allies "in an unambiguous way," his hope is that "perhaps Russia will reconsider its recent actions and embrace the kind of changes that will make it possible for us to improve relationships going forward." Pence said Trump has a "we'll see" attitude toward Russia, but added that the White House is hopeful sanctions will force Russia to change its behavior. “We think that creates an environment where there can be a more honest dialogue about resolving differences and finding common ground," he said. (The Washington Post, 08.02.17, The Washington Post, 08.02.17)

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

  • Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist in the Strategic Studies division of the Center for Naval Analyses, writes: “The likelihood of [the Zapad] exercise serving as cover for some larger nefarious aim, whether it is an attack on Ukraine or Lithuania or a stealth occupation of Belarus, is practically zero.” (The National Interest, 08.07.17)
  • The number of cease-fire violations in Donbas has increased over the week, according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The cease-fire did not improve in the past week, with the SMM recording a 55% increase in cease-fire violations compared with the previous week. The greatest impact was on the territory between Pervomaisk and Popasna, where 20% of ceasefire violations took place. (Interfax, 08.08.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  •  See analysis section.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger writes: “How should the West develop relations with Russia, a country that is a vital element of European security, but which, for reasons of history and geography, has a fundamentally different view of what constitutes a mutually satisfactory arrangement in areas adjacent to Russia. Is the wisest course to pressure Russia, and if necessary to punish it, until it accepts Western views of its internal and global order?” (CapX, 08.02.17)
  • Charles Kupchan, a professor of international affairs, writes: “The Trump administration is in the midst of making a decision on whether to transfer lethal weaponry to Ukraine. This potential move is intended to give Ukraine’s military the ability to impose new costs on the Russians and their proxies engaged in a separatist revolt in the country’s eastern region of Donbas, thereby persuading the Kremlin to give up the fight. But the result would likely be the opposite—an escalation in the conflict that would lead to further losses of Ukraine’s territory and compromise its political stability.” (The Washington Post, 08.07.17)
  • Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “It was a grotesque distortion to portray the events in Ukraine as a purely indigenous, popular uprising. The Nuland-Pyatt telephone conversation and other actions confirm that the United States was considerably more than a passive observer to the turbulence.” (The National Interest, 08.06.17)

Other important news:

  • After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Aug. 6 his country was ready for more engagement with the U.S. on North Korea, Syria, Ukraine and other pressing matters, even as Moscow braced for new sanctions from the Trump administration. Lavrov said they also discussed cybersecurity and Tillerson agreed to continue a dialogue between U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. "We felt the readiness of our U.S. colleagues to continue dialogue. I think there's no alternative to that," Lavrov said after the meeting on the sidelines of an international gathering in Manila. (AP, 08.06.17, Reuters, 08.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.07.17)
  • Lavrov: Trump’s special representative for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, will soon make his first trip to Moscow, a commitment Tillerson made during the Aug. 6 meeting in the Philippines. Tillerson said Lavrov indicated "some willingness" to resolve tensions over Ukraine. (AP, 08.06.17, Wall Street Journal, 08.07.17)
  • Lavrov has held talks with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. They discussed Russia-EU relations and relevant issues on the global agenda, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine. (Interfax, 08.07.17)
  • Georgian ex-president and former head of Ukraine's Odessa regional state administration, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of the Ukrainian citizenship, has entered Poland with his Ukrainian passport. He met with Euro Maidan activists in Warsaw on Aug. 7. (BBC Monitoring Ukraine and Baltics, 08.07.17)
  • Germany may have to accept Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea as a "permanent provisional arrangement," head of the Free Democratic Party Christian Lindner told a newspaper chain. (Reuters, 08.06.17) 
  • The Zhuravka-Millerovo rail bypassing Ukraine in the Rostov and Voronezh regions is of specific significance for safe transportation to southern Russia, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu said. (TASS, 08.08.17)
  • Electricity was cut for hours to tens of thousands of people in Crimea amid soaring summer temperatures and continuing supply problems on Aug. 7. Russia's Energy Ministry said in a statement on its website that nearly 109,000 Sevastopol and elsewhere were without power as electrical engineers set up temporary outages to relieve strained power lines. The restrictions on power were lifted about an hour before midnight on Aug. 7 and power was fully restored to Sevastopol and the rest of Crimea. (RFE/RL, 08.08.17)
  • At least 99 people have drowned in Ukraine in the past week as sweltering heat drove people to rivers, lakes and the Black Sea for relief, officials say. (RFE/RL, 08.07.17)