Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Feb. 7-14, 2017

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:

  • Since 2015, Ukraine has been among the ten countries with the largest internally displaced populations worldwide. (Carnegie Endowment, 02.13.17)
  • Kiev has filed an application with the World Trade Organization over restrictions imposed by Russia on transit of Ukrainian goods to Central Asia. (RAPSI, 02.13.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • More than 1,000 NATO soldiers being stationed in Lithuania sends a clear signal that the alliance stands “strong and united” in the Baltics in the face of Russian aggression, the Lithuanian president said Feb. 7. (AP, 02.07.17)
  • Five hundred U.S. troops began to arrive in a Romanian Black Sea port with tanks and hardware to bolster defense in this Eastern European NATO nation. The U.S. has earlier activated a land-based missile defense station in Romania which will form part of a larger and controversial European shield. Senior U.S. and NATO officials attended the ceremony in Deveselu in southern Romania. The U.S. says the Aegis system is a shield to protect NATO countries from short and medium-range missiles, particularly from the Middle East. But Russia sees it as a security threat. Russian Foreign Ministry official Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko says Moscow views Romania as a NATO outpost and a "clear threat" because it hosts part of a U.S. missile shield in Europe. (RFE/RL, 02.09.17, BBC, 02.09.17, AP, 02.14.17)

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

  • A week-long surge in violence in and around the government-held town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine wound down last week. Over 40 people were killed in that escalation. On Feb. 13, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said it recorded fewer ceasefire violations—including, however, more explosions—in the Donetsk region between the evenings of Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 compared to the previous reporting period. (OSCE, 02.13.17, Reuters, 02.06.17, AP, 02.06.17)
  • Anatol Lieven, professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, wrote: “If, as many of the hawks in Brussels and Washington claim, Russia wanted to undermine and then invade Latvia, it would have done so after 2008, when the Latvian economy was in collapse and it would have been easy to create a crisis there.”  (New York Times, 02.14.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • About 200 soldiers from Canada’s 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Light Infantry are set to leave for Ukraine at the beginning of March. The Canadians have taught about 2,600 Ukrainian troops the basics of soldiering, such as how to use their weapons and move as a unit, plus more advanced skills, such as bomb disposal and medical training. (CBC, 02.14.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Isaac Webb, a former junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote: “Kiev has pointed the finger at Russia as the culprit for the recent outbreak of fighting, and there is some evidence to support its case … But Kiev’s advances have also contributed to the rekindling of the war. Since last abandoning its policy of disengagement last fall, Ukraine has been making increasingly frequent incursions into the ‘gray zone’—the no man’s land between government and separatist forces along the front line that the two sides have fought over since the signing of the first failed peace agreement in September 2014.” (Foreign Policy, 02.06.17)
  • Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote: “Kiev knows that any serious escalation would be met with a Russian counter-offensive, as Russian escalation dominance is ensured by its technical and military superiority. A Ukrainian invasion would also lead to loss of Western support. Hence, for Kiev, a military solution for Donbas is not apparent … Instead of implementing the deeply unpopular Minsk Agreements (second protocol signed on Feb. 12, 2015 in Minsk), Kiev has used the conflict as leverage to secure external support from the West and promote solidarity and unity at home. ” (War on the Rocks, 02.08.17)
  • Russia experts Eugene Rumer, Richard Sokolsky, Paul Stronski and Andrew S. Weiss wrote: “Improved personal ties between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin may be useful, but they are not enough. The Trump administration needs to temper expectations about breakthroughs or grand bargains with Moscow. Instead, the focus should be on managing a volatile relationship with an increasingly emboldened and unpredictable Russian leadership.” (Carnegie Endowment–Chicago Council on Global Affairs Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, 02.09.17)

Other important news:

  • Despite Kiev's pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists. One major group that refuses to submit is the Right Sector. Analysts say Right Sector has thousands of members, including hundreds of armed men deployed alongside Ukrainian government troops. Right Sector's existence undermines Kiev's standing within Europe, and—if peace talks ever gain momentum—this group probably would reject any compromise and could push a volatile region deeper into conflict. In the little town of Mariinka, volunteer units stand guard. At a position overlooking separatist-held Donetsk, two foreigners stand out: an Italian neo-Nazi and a young Dutchman. (The Washington Post, 02.13.17)
  • A recent poll by Gallup indicates only 3% of Russians view NATO as a protector, while 67% view it as a threat. The poll also indicates that residents of non-NATO member countries in Russia's sphere of influence tend to share Russia's views on the alliance. Even in Ukraine, 35% of those polled view NATO as a threat while 29% view it as a source of protection. Gallup’s statement on the results of the poll didn’t specify whether residents of separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine have been polled. (Russia Matters, 02.13.17)  
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may meet in Germany this week. Lavrov intends to discuss Ukraine and other international issues during his first contact with the new U.S. Secretary of State. (Reuters, 02.17.17, TASS, 02.12.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has rejected suggestions that the Kremlin and the Trump administration may try to negotiate a deal over the war in eastern Ukraine. The conflict “can hardly be a subject for some kind of deal,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (AP, 02.09.17)
  • Ukraine is starting to live up to its reputation as Europe’s breadbasket. Exports of wheat, barley and sunflower oil are at or near all-time highs, part of an agricultural revival that began to take hold in 2013. (Bloomberg, 02.13.17)
  • Kiev expects to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund by the end of the month to allow the next tranche of aid, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said on Feb. 10. (Reuters, 02.10.17)
  • In a gesture by the EU, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promised to send 600 million euros ($638 million) to Kiev in the next few weeks after the Ukrainian government submitted a draft bill to lift a ban on Ukrainian wood exports. (Reuters, 02.10.17)
  • The European Parliament has endorsed new rules governing the suspension of visa-free regimes with countries outside the European Union, a key step toward visa-free travel for Georgians and Ukrainians to the Schengen zone. Diplomats say visa liberalization for Georgia is expected to enter into force in late March. The approval of the suspension mechanism also clears the way for further steps on visa liberalization for Ukraine, which diplomats say is expected to enter into force in June. (RFE/RL, 02.13.17)
  • In their first meeting, the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke "at length" about terrorism, Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and Ukraine, the EU said in a statement. (Reuters, 02.09.17)
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers that he would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the margins of the Munich Security Conference. The Munich Security Conference will be held on Feb. 17-19. (TASS, 02.14.17)
  • NATO accused Russia of escalating a disinformation campaign since the Kremlin's 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region, saying Russian websites such as Sputnik and RT had posted false stories, the alliance's spokeswoman said on Feb. 11. (Reuters, 02.11.17)
  • President Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned Feb. 13 after revelations that he had discussed sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. prior to Trump taking office. The White House said in a statement late Feb. 13 that Keith Kellogg, the chief of staff at the National Security Council, would serve as interim national security adviser. Vice Adm. Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, became the front-runner late Feb. 13 to replace Flynn as the White House national security adviser. Flynn insisted until late last week that in a conversation on Dec. 29 with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, he did not discuss sanctions imposed that day by the Obama administration. Flynn conceded that he did, administration officials said, after transcripts of his phone calls show as much. Trump had become increasingly concerned about the continued fallout over Flynn's behavior, according to people familiar with his thinking, and told aides that the media storm around Flynn would damage the president's image on national security issues. (AP, 02.14.17, Wall Street Journal, 02.14.17, New York Times, 02.14.17)
  • Ukraine will not import electric power from Russia, according to Ukrainian Minister of Energy Igor Nasalik. Despite an acute coal shortage that might cause problems for Ukraine’s entire power generating system, the country does not plan to import electricity from Russia, Nasalik said Feb. 14. (TASS, 02.14.17)
  • Ukrainian publishers have reacted angrily to their government’s ban on importing books from Russia, claiming it will create a black market and damage the domestic industry. Books from Russia account for up to 60% of all titles sold in Ukraine and are estimated to make up 100,000 sales a year. (The Guardian, 02.14.17)