Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Jan. 10-17, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will keep U.S. sanctions against Russia in place "at least for a period of time," he has said in an interview, adding that he would consider lifting the sanctions once Russian President Vladimir Putin proves he can be an ally. "If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?" Trump said in the interview published in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 13, a week before his inauguration. In an interview with The Times of London and German magazine Bild, published on Jan. 15, Trump said: "They have sanctions on Russia—let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that's part of it." The Kremlin will not discuss making policy concessions in order for U.S. sanctions on the country to be lifted, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has claimed. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia never raises the issue of sanctions in talks with its foreign counterparts and doesn’t intend to do so because it’s not up to Moscow to scrap them. (RFE/RL, 01.15.17, The Washington Post, 01.17.17, The Moscow Times, 01.17.17, AP, 01.16.17, Reuters, 01.17.17, RFE/RL, 01.17.17)

 Ukraine’s leverage over Russia:

  • Ukraine has filed a case against Russia at the United Nations’ highest court, accusing Moscow of illegally annexing Crimea and illicitly funding separatist rebel groups in eastern Ukraine. (AP, 01.17.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Russia’s embargo against Western food imports may come to an end in the near future, according to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Legally, the sanctions end on Dec. 31, 2017. (The Moscow Times, 01.13.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Russian gas giant Gazprom said on Jan. 17 that it had charged Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz with a $5.3 billion bill for gas it did not buy under a take-or-pay clause. (Reuters, 01.17.17)
  • The Russian government has confirmed that its 2010 agreement with Ukraine on building a third and fourth reactor at the Khmelnitsky nuclear power plant has been cancelled. (World Nuclear News, 01.16.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • In a move that appears designed to make it harder for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to roll back sanctions after President Barack Obama leaves office, on Jan. 13 Obama extended  all U.S. sanctions on Russia through March 2018 over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its backing of separatists in the eastern part of the country. (RFE/RL, 01.14.17, RFE/RL, 01.15.17)
  • A Ukrainian government official said on Jan. 11 that the nation’s forces have captured new positions in the rebel-held east. Olexander Motuzyanyk, presidential spokesman for the operation in the east, said on Jan. 11 that one soldier was killed and three injured in fighting in the conflict zone during the past 24 hours. (AP, 01.11.17)
  • The Ukrainian defense ministry released astonishing statistics from what it calls the "anti-terrorist operation" against Russian proxies in the east. In 2016, 211 Ukrainian servicemen were killed in action—and 256 more died from other causes, such as suicide, murder, traffic accidents, drug overdoses and alcohol poisonings or accidental shootings. (Bloomberg, 01.17.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Lithuania on Jan. 17 signed an agreement with the United States formalizing the presence of U.S. troops in the small Baltic country bordering Russia and Belarus. (AP, 01.17.17)
  • Following a Russian military buildup in Kaliningrad over the past few months, Lithuania announced on Jan. 16 that it would build an 80-mile-long fence equipped with surveillance cameras on the border with Kaliningrad, scheduled to be finished later this year. (The Washington Post, 01.17.17)
  • Polish leaders welcomed U.S. troops to their country Jan. 14, with the defense minister expressing gratitude for their arrival and calling it the fulfillment of a dream Poles have had for decades. The first of 3,500 American troops began rolling into Poland for a nine-month-long mission starting on Jan. 8, 2017. (AP, 01.14.17, The National Interest, 01,15.17)
  • The U.S. Marine Corps has touched down in Norway. The first 300 Marines en route to Vaernes military base in the Scandinavian country have arrived as part of a temporary, six month stay. (Foreign Policy, 01.17.17)
  • Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky: “A negotiating process based on clearly drawn lines, which are backed by readiness to apply force, is not equal to support for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's human rights abuses and cross-border escapades. It can't be the beginning of a beautiful friendship; there are too many deeply rooted differences. But it can be the start of a more realistic, more predictable relationship—the best both nuclear powers can hope for given their current irreconcilable differences of ideology.” (Bloomberg, 01.12.17)
  • Russia is bolstering its anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities in Crimea with the addition of the potent S-400 Triumf air and missile defense system. The addition of the S-400—which can be armed with the 250-mile range 40N6—would afford Moscow the ability not only to keep the peninsula safe from attack, but also threaten airspace deep inside Ukraine should the Kremlin choose to do so. (The National Interest, 01.14.17)

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

  • No significant developments.

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • When asked whether the U.S. would ever recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state Rex Tillerson said during his recent confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate: “The only way that that could ever happen is if there were some broader agreement that was satisfactory to the Ukrainian people. So absent that, no, we would never recognize that.” “We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,” Tillerson said. “Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia,” he said. Tillerson said the U.S. and Russia are "not likely to ever be friends," adding that U.S. and Russian value systems "are starkly different." Tillerson urged an “open and frank dialogue” so that “we know how to chart our own course.” Tillerson also faulted a lack of U.S. leadership for Russia’s aggressiveness. He said it’s a “fair assumption” that Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about Moscow’s meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election and that “there's no respect for the rule of law in Russia today.” (, 01.11.17, AP, 01.10.17, Bloomberg, 01.10.17, AP, 01.10.17, Wall Street Journal, 01.11.17, Just Security, 01.11.17)
  • Mike Pompeo, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said that Russia had reasserted itself by invading Ukraine and "threatening Europe." In the opening statement of his Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 12, the Congressman also said that Russia had done nothing to defeat Islamic State militants. The CIA under his leadership, he said, would provide ''accurate, timely, robust and clear-eyed analysis of Russian activities.'' (RFE/RL, 01.12.17, CNN, 01.12.17, RFE/RL, 01.12.17)
  • Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky: “[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko's hope is that Putin will have little enough to offer to Trump that the deal-oriented approach will fail. Then these allies will help Ukraine recreate the special position it once held on a far friendlier U.S. administration's agenda.” (Bloomberg, 01.17.17)
  • Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy of Brookings Institute: “Vladimir Putin is a fighter and he is a survivalist. He won’t give up, and he will fight dirty if that’s what it takes to win. He didn’t give up as a kid in the Leningrad courtyards. He didn’t give up in Chechnya. He won’t give up in Ukraine or elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood.” (Brookings, 01.13.17)

Other important news:

  • Making his final visit to Kiev after eight years as U.S. vice president, Joe Biden urged the international community to stand against what he called Russian aggression and urged the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to be a strong supporter of Ukraine. Biden also urged Ukraine to keep demonstrating its commitment to the rule of law and fighting corruption. (RFE/RL, 01.16.17)
  • Ukrainian government officials tried to help Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and undermine U.S. President-elect Donald Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. They also helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found. (Politico, 01.11.17)
  • Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko dismissed talk that Donald Trump’s presidency will damage U.S. backing for Ukraine and said he expects to receive the next slice of a $17.5 billion bailout within weeks. Poroshenko said he was one of the first world leaders Trump called after his victory in November. “We had quite a promising conversation,” Poroshenko said. “We agreed the date of my visit to Washington D.C. immediately after the inauguration and the agenda of our negotiations will be quite big.” (Bloomberg, 01.17.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has warned that Ukrainians may become disillusioned with their pro-European path if the European Union further delays closer integration with Kiev. (RFE/RL, 01.17.17)
  • In an interview with London’s The Sunday Times and German newspaper Bild, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) “obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror” and said member organizations aren’t paying their “fair share.” Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Jan. 16 that Trump's comments had aroused concern across the 28-member alliance. NATO reacted on Jan. 16 to Trump's statement by saying it has full confidence in the U.S. security commitment to Europe. In contrast, Moscow has welcomed Trump calling NATO "obsolete.” Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Jan. 16 that "NATO is indeed a vestige [of the past] and we agree with that." (AP, 01.15.17, Reuters, 01.17.17, RFE/RL, 01.16.17)
  • Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, after he was ousted from the presidency in a popular uprising in early 2014, requested that Russia send troops into Ukraine, official United Nations documents show. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko published part of a letter from the United Nations on Jan. 17 confirming that on March 1, 2014 Yanukovych requested that the Russian armed forces intervene to “restore order” in Ukraine. (Kyiv Post, 01.17.17)
  • French presidential candidate and far-right National Front leader Marie le Pen said in an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia that she recognized Crimea as being part of Russia and would push to drop sanctions against Russia if elected. (TASS, 01.17.17)