Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Dec. 13-20, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • The European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine for another six months. The European Council formally approved the extension on Dec. 19 after EU leaders agreed to the move at a summit last week. (RFE/RL, 12.19.16)
  • The United States on Dec. 20 blacklisted seven Russian businessmen and eight companies and government enterprises over Russia's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement. (Reuters, 12.20.16)
  • New U.S. sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict are hostile acts by the outgoing Obama administration and Russia will expand its sanctions lists against the United States in response, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the TASS news agency. (Reuters, 12.20.16)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Ukrainian officials said on Dec. 19 that five soldiers have been killed in the latest outburst of fighting with pro-Russia rebels near the town of Svitlodarsk in the Donetsk region. The rebels said two people were killed and two others were missing on their side and claimed that 10 Ukrainian soldiers died in the Dec. 18 battle, according to Russian news agencies.  An international monitoring group documented almost 3,000 explosions in the region Dec. 18—up from 700 on Dec. 17 and 100 on Dec. 16. (AP, 12.19.16, The Washington Post, 12.20.16)
  • Russia will expand nuclear missile patrols near its borders with Europe as it develops its military to respond to increasing “threats” in 2017, senior commanders have announced. The commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Sergei Karakayev, told journalists that in 2016, his service received everything necessary for the deployment of 23 RS-24 Yars missiles, both silo-based and road-mobile. The missiles were deployed to five regiments: the road-mobile missiles to divisions in Yoshkar-Ola, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk and Nizhny Tagil, the silo-based missiles to Kozelsk. (, 12.16.16, Independent, 12.16.16)
  • Political scientist Graham Allison and foreign policy analyst Dimitri K. Simes: “On their current trajectory, the United States and Russia face a serious risk of stumbling into a war neither side wants and which would be catastrophic for both.” (The National Interest, January-February 2017)
  • A report released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative recommends steps to reduce the likelihood of accident or miscalculation leading to a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Russia, which the report says is “now higher than any period since the end of the Cold War” in 1991. (AP, 12.14.16)

 Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Russia and Eurasia expert Thomas Graham of Yale University wrote that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump should “reopen the channels of communication [with Russia]. This is not a reward to Russia. It is essential to avoiding misunderstandings that could lead to crises spinning out of control, and to gaining the insights we will need to elaborate and conduct policy successfully.” (The National Interest, 12.12.16)
  • Former USAID officer Josh Cohen: “If it doesn’t do something to show residents of the Donbass that it cares about their problems, Kiev risks losing them to Russia. The best way forward for Kiev is to meaningfully improve locals’ lives by repairing the infrastructure they depend on.” (Foreign Policy, 12.14.16)


  • Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told ABC news on Dec. 18: “I don’t believe that anyone in Russia today intends to attack NATO.” But Lute also said “I worry about attempts by Russia ... to influence political campaigns, flooding allied capitals, the news media with misinformation or disinformation and all these with an attempt to fragment internally our societies, perhaps distort our political processes and to sow discontent and a lack of cohesion across the allies.” (AP, 12.19.16)

 Other important news:

  • NATO ambassadors welcomed a Finnish proposal for a March meeting with Russian experts to develop new air-safety measures in the Baltic Sea region. NATO ambassadors met with Russia's envoy to the alliance, Alexander Grushko, on Dec. 19 for a lengthy discussion of air-safety measures, Ukraine and Afghanistan. Grushko said after the meeting that working within the Baltic group represents a "professional, de-politicized approach" to air safety. The ambassadors also discussed transparency over military exercises. In spite of the meeting, NATO and Russia remain at loggerheads over Ukraine, the alliance’s top official said on Dec. 19. (Wall Street Journal, 12.19.16, AP, 12.19.16)
  • European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed skepticism that the U.S. would strike a grand bargain with Russia on issues like Ukraine and Syria, cutting the Europeans out. She said Republican lawmakers "might be more worried than the Europeans" about the incoming president's plans to improve ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Wall Street Journal, 12.14.16)
  • European Union leaders reached a compromise with the Netherlands on Dec. 15 that should allow the bloc to enact an agreement on closer ties with Ukraine, regarded as a landmark deal to counter the influence of Russia. (AP, 12.16.16)
  • The U.N. General Assembly has passed a resolution that recognizes Crimea as "temporarily occupied" by Russia and condemns the "abuses" and "discrimination" against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and other groups on the peninsula. (RFE/RL, 12.20.16)
  • A Dutch court has ruled that a collection of gold artifacts from Crimea that were on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia occupied the peninsula must be returned to Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.14.16)
  • Ukraine's Defense Ministry says its website was temporarily knocked out of service by cyberattacks that appeared to be aimed at preventing the release of news about Kiev’s conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east. Nearly a week later, Ukrainian authorities are also still looking for the culprits behind troublesome cyberattacks against official financial institutions that appeared to be designed to inflict maximum chaos on end-of-the-year payments. On Dec. 16, media reported cyber breaches at Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry and State Aviation Service; other attacks this month have reportedly hit Ukraine’s railways, treasury department, Finance Ministry and Pension Fund. (RFE/RL, 12.13.16, RFE/RL, 12.12.16, NewsRu [in Russian], 12.16.16)
  • Germany will be forced to continue handing lucrative contracts to Russian and Ukrainian firms to transport its military hardware, according to Bundestag MPs, because it does not have its own large-scale military transport planes. (DW, 12.14.16)
  • Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who has declared his intent to run in Russia’s next presidential election, says one of his top priorities if elected would be to implement the Minsk II accords aimed at ending the conflict in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.16.16)
  • Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, former defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, has asked his followers on social media to help him find a job. (The Moscow Times, 12.19.16)
  • Fugitive Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, whose accusations of top-level corruption have sparked a political furor, has charged that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's allies are profiting from supplying troops fighting Russia-backed separatists. The U.S. Justice Department has cut ties with Onyshchenko, who said he had turned over damning evidence proving the corruption of Ukraine’s president, a spokesman told RFE/RL on Dec. 16. (RFE/RL, 12.17.16, RFE/RL, 12.20.16)
  • Nationalized Ukrainian lender Privatbank has a 148 billion hryvnia ($5.6 billion) hole in its balance sheet, the country's central bank governor said Dec. 19. Ukraine's largest private lender is controlled by tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, who bankrolled armed formations supporting the Ukrainian military. (Wall Street Journal, 12.19.16)