Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Feb. 21-28, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • By the end of 2016, Ukraine’s population had decreased by about 9.5 million from its 1993 peak of 52,244,100—a net 18% drop. In 2016, every birth in Ukraine was matched by 1.5 deaths, according to a January report by the State Statistics Service of Ukraine. With 86.3 men for every 100 women, Ukraine also has the sixth-lowest ratio of men to women among all countries in the world. Also, the life expectancy difference of 10 years between Ukrainian men and women (66 and 76 years, respectively) is the fifth-biggest among all countries in the world. (The National Interest, 02.22.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Russia is proposing the creation of an OPEC-like organization for the global aluminum industry, TASS news agency quoted Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov as saying on Feb. 27. (Reuters, 02.27.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Ukraine remains the top buyer of Russian beer and is now the leading buyer of Russian meat, pushing Kazakhstan to second place, reported Vedomosti in Russia, citing the Federal Customs Service. (RBTH, 02.23.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian government forces said on Feb. 25 that 16 Ukrainian soldiers were wounded within the previous 24 hours by renewed fighting against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, despite the fresh truce that was meant to come into effect on Feb. 20. (RFE/RL, 02.26.17)
  • Russia’s adversaries in the U.S. Congress are preparing an “economic blockade” against Russia, by pushing a bill that would prevent U.S. President Donald Trump from easing sanctions against Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement Feb. 28. (The Moscow Times, 02.28.17)
  • “Even if they lift sanctions, investment won’t flow,” Boris Titov, the Kremlin’s ombudsman for business, said in an interview in Moscow. “For the moment, the risks in Russia are too high and the returns too low.” (Bloomberg, 02.27.17)

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:

  • Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors recorded more ceasefire violations in the Donetsk region and fewer in the Luhansk region between the evenings of Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 compared with the previous 24 hours. (OSCE, 02.28.17)
  • British Vice Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Gordon Messenger met Gen. Alexander Zhuravlev, the deputy chief of Russia's general staff, and discussed how best to prevent accidents and other incidents involving the two countries' militaries, the Inferfax news agency said.  (Reuters, 02.28.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • While in Kiev, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) called on the United States to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine so it can better defend itself against Russia-back separatists in the country’s east. (RFE/RL, 02.23.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations: “Sanctions should remain a tool of U.S. and Western policy but not be overused. Ideally, Russia would come to have a stake in maintaining or expanding economic relationships that could jumpstart its shrinking economy. … The United States also needs to exercise more traditional foreign policy restraint. NATO membership for either Ukraine or Georgia should be placed on hold.” (Time, 02.17.17)
  • Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: “It is time that Western nations seek to negotiate a new security architecture for neutral countries in Eastern Europe today. The core concept would be permanent neutrality, at least in terms of formal membership in treaty-based mutual-defense organizations. The countries in question collectively make a broken-up arc from Europe's far north to its south—Finland and Sweden; Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus; Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan; Cyprus plus Serbia and possibly other Balkan states. The discussion process should begin within NATO, and then include the neutral countries themselves; formal negotiations would then take place with Russia.” (Wall Street Journal, 02.27.17)
  • Andrew Radin, an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation: “The main vulnerability of the Baltics therefore lies in Russia's local conventional superiority: A large-scale conventional Russian incursion into the Baltics, legitimized and supported by political subversion, would rapidly overwhelm NATO forces currently postured in the region. …  NATO should do more to strengthen the Baltic countries' security forces and thereby reduce the potential for Russian covert action.” (RAND Corporation, February 2017)


  • The Kremlin, increasingly convinced that U.S. President Donald Trump will not fundamentally change relations with Russia, is instead seeking to bolster its global influence by exploiting what it considers weakness in Washington, according to political advisers, diplomats, journalists and other analysts. (New York Times, 02.28.17)

Impact of the Ukraine conflict on other countries:

  • No significant developments

Other important news:

  • The United States has called on Russia to "immediately" observe a cease-fire deal in eastern Ukraine, saying that a combined force from Russia’s military and pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine had been targeting international monitors. Washington's call came a day after the Organization for Security and Cooperation monitoring mission said armed men in separatist-controlled territory to the north of Donetsk had seized one of the unarmed drones that the monitors use to assess cease-fire violations. (RFE/RL, 02.26.17)
  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will expand its mission to Ukraine by increasing the number of monitors and broadening the scope of their work, OSCE Chairman Sebastian Kurz has said. Lamberto Zannier, secretary general of the OSCE, said on Feb. 21 that a ceasefire in Ukraine was not looking "too good" and confirmation of the agreed removal of heavy artillery would have to wait until at least Feb. 22. (The Moscow Times, 02.23.17, Reuters, 02.21.17)
  • Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Feb. 27 they would take control of Ukraine-run businesses in rebel-held areas if the Ukrainian government does not end a rail blockade that has halted coal supplies. In the meantime, Ukrainian war veterans and their supporters say they will step up the blockade. (Reuters, 02.27.17, BBC, 02.28.17)
  • Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko visited areas of eastern Ukraine held by Russia-backed separatists on Feb. 24 to meet with Ukrainian prisoners there, irking many of her compatriots in Kiev. (RFE/RL, 02.25.17)
  • Speculation grew that Ukraine’s central bank governor Valeriya Gontareva is preparing to step down, a move that could stall the momentum of economic reforms and further delay transfers from a $17.5 billion international bailout. Ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was offered the job, but isn’t interested. (Bloomberg, 02.27.17)
  • A purported cyber hack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer. The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump. Leshchenko disavowed the texts. (Politico, 02.23.17)
  • There has been a hitch in the extradition of a Ukrainian business tycoon to Chicago. Dmitry Firtash, who has been indicted in a Chicago racketeering case, reportedly has ties to both U.S. President Donald Trump and the Kremlin. According to justice officials in Austria, Firtash's extradition to Chicago is on hold because Firtash is facing new organized crime charges in Spain. (WLS, 02.23.17)
  • In an unexpected twist, Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksiy Honcharenko now says his reported kidnapping was actually a sting operation designed to trap an organized crime group. Honcharenko on Feb. 23 told state news agency Ukrinform that he was "bait" to nab a group that was planning a series of crimes. (RFE/RL, 02.23.17)