Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Dec. 6-13, 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:

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande backed extending economic sanctions against Russia, citing a lack of progress on ending the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Leaders of the 28 EU governments meeting on Dec. 15 in Brussels are expected to approve extending the sanctions, which expire on Jan. 31, 2017 unless they’re renewed. The measures, which target Russia’s finance, energy and defense industries among others, were imposed in 2014 in response to Russia’s backing for rebels in Ukraine. (Bloomberg, 12.13.16)
  • The U.S. Senate has passed a $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 that includes a ban on funds for military-to-military contact between the Pentagon and the Russian Defense Ministry—a response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 12.08.16)
  • Russia's Foreign Ministry has threatened to retaliate against U.S. diplomats if Washington enacts legislation restricting the movements of Russian diplomats in the U.S. Legislation now making its way through the U.S. Congress calls for tightening restrictions on Russian diplomats who want to travel more than 40 kilometers (approximately 25 miles) from their official posts in the U.S. The diplomats would essentially be forced to get approval ahead of time from the FBI. (RFE/RL, 12.07.16)
  • A measure formally known as the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act passed the U.S. Senate in a 92-7 vote on Dec. 8 as part of a larger bill that sets guidance for U.S. defense priorities for the coming year. The legislation is modeled after the Magnitsky Act and authorizes the president to impose visa bans, to freeze financial assets or to take other punitive measures against anyone who targets whistle-blowers exposing corruption or citizens exercising basic rights like freedom of speech, religion or assembly. It also targets foreign government officials engaged in "significant corruption.” (RFE/RL, 12.08.16)
  • Human rights violators from around the world could face having their assets frozen in the U.K. as lawmakers vote on proposals similar to the U.S.’s Magnitsky Act. A “Magnitsky Amendment” has been added to the Criminal Finances bill, which aims to clamp down on money-laundering and terror financing. (Financial Times, 12.05.16)
  • Iconic computer font Times New Roman has become the latest victim of Western sanctions against Russia, the Kommersant newspaper reported Dec. 12. (The Moscow Times, 12.12.16)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Financial Times editorial: “Foreign meddling in the U.S. democratic process must be a red line.” (Financial Times, 12.11.16)

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

  • Alexander Hug, deputy chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s monitoring mission to Ukraine, has said: “The conflict in the east is far from frozen, it's the opposite. Weapons are moving, troops are moving and there are ceasefire violations. We can only see a fraction of what is happening, we see the tip of a large, dangerous iceberg. The situation is static but unpredictable, very volatile and very kinetic.” (DW, 12.12.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • The U.S. Senate has passed a National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 that earmarks $350 million in military and security assistance for Ukraine, but half of those funds are contingent on Ukraine doing more to clean up corruption and waste in its armed forces. The measure also authorizes the supply of lethal weaponry, which Ukraine has demanded for months to help its forces battling Russia-backed fighters in eastern regions. (RFE/RL, 12.08.16)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Professor of political science Daniel Treisman: “On Ukraine, Trump could offer a personal commitment to block any proposed admission of Ukraine or Georgia to NATO for as long as he is in office.” (The National Interest, 12.06.16)


  • Swedish Defense Research Agency: “The Russian Armed Forces are developing from a force primarily designed for handling internal disorder and conflicts in the area of the former Soviet Union towards a structure configured for large-scale operations also beyond that area.” (Swedish Defense Research Agency, December 2016)

Other important news:

  • Nearly a week later, Ukrainian authorities are 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. (RFE/RL, 12.12.16)
  • The EU has disbursed billions of euros to Ukraine, largely for budget support, but the European Court of Auditors admitted that it was unable to say how the money was spent. The ECA’s report also said Ukraine is still perceived as Europe’s most corrupt state despite European Union assistance to Kiev intended to reverse the situation. "Vested interests influence public policy-making. Oligarchic clans continue to exert a dominant influence on Ukraine’s economy, politics and media,” the report said. (TASS, 12.07.16, Euractiv, 12.07.16)
  • Investments from foreign companies looking to build facilities in Ukraine (greenfield investments) dropped from 82 projects totaling an estimated $4.6 billion in 2013 to 25 totaling $858 million the following year, according to fDi Markets, an FT data service. The figures have not yet recovered. (Financial Times, 12.08.16)
  • The EU will seek to ease tension in energy relations between Russia and Ukraine when it hosts three-way talks on natural gas supply, the first since a pricing dispute between the two former Soviet states prompted the government in Kiev to halt purchases last year. (Bloomberg, 12.09.16)
  • New strict instructions from the EU are forcing European nations to refer to Crimea as an "annexed" peninsula, Russia's foreign minister has claimed. (The Moscow Times, 12.13.16)
  • More than two dozen U.S. senators have urged U.S. President-elect Donald Trump not to weaken sanctions targeting Russia for its actions in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine. “In light of Russia's continued aggression and repeated refusal to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereign right to choose its own destiny, we also renew our call for the United States to increase political, economic and military support for Ukraine," they wrote. (RFE/RL, 12.08.16)
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is urging Western allies to maintain diplomatic pressure and sanctions on Russia until it respects the peace agreement in Ukraine. After talks with NATO and Ukrainian foreign ministers, Stoltenberg told reporters Dec. 7 of a “massive increase in cease-fire violations” in the conflict-torn east of the former Soviet republic. (AP, 12.07.16)
  • Two Trump transition sources said that a representative of the transition team met late last month with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels and delivered a private but deliberate message: The incoming administration would like Stoltenberg to replace Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller. (The Washington Post, 12.13.16)
  • In January, a brigade from the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division will arrive in Germany and then move to Poland, according to U.S. military officials. After conducting systems tests in Poland, one battalion will go back to the training center in Germany, another battalion will go to the Baltic States and one battalion will go to Romania, the officials said. NATO military officials held an exercise last week to help plan the deployment. (Wall Street Journal, 12.09.16)
  • Russia is engaged in efforts to convene a Russia-NATO council meeting, according to Russia’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko. NATO wants to hold a meeting before Christmas, but Russia is reluctant to discuss Ukraine, which the allies insist must be on the table. Moscow may even wait until a new U.S. administration is installed next month to see if there is any policy change. (AP, 12.07.16, TASS, 12.09.16)
  • Commercial satellite images suggest that Russia is moving a new generation of nuclear-capable Iskander missiles into Eastern Europe. Russian officials have described the Iskander deployment as a counterweight to missile-defense systems the U.S. has put in Romania and plans to install in Poland. (NPR, 12.08.16, Wall Street Journal, 12.09.16)
  • U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has picked Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. Trump has tapped former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to lead the Energy Department and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security. (RFE/RL, 12.12.16, Dow Jones, 12.13.16, AFP, 12.12.16)
  • The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter. However, Trump said:  "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point—not a talking point, a laughing point.” (The Washington Post, 12.09.16, The Washington Times, 12.09.16)