Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Jan. 17-24, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • A new report from the RAND Corporation notes: “Europe relies on Russia for a not-insignificant share of its energy, but Russia relies on Western European technology and capital for its oil exploration and extraction industries. Although Russia provides a high percentage of European oil supplies, Russia's oil exports provide it with little leverage, as Europe could tap into alternative sources.” (RAND, January 2017)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the West’s sanctions on Russia are likely to remain in place “for a long time” despite expectations that Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president will lead to warmer relations between Washington and Moscow. (AP, 01.22.17)
  • U.S. sanctions on Russia's Federal Security Service could impact the import of electronics to Russia, the RBC newspaper has reported. (The Moscow Times, 01.24.17)
  • Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin are planning a new bill that would prevent the U.S. president from lifting sanctions on Russia without congressional approval. (The Moscow Times, 01.23.17)

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:

  • No significant developments.

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak has urged U.S. President Donald Trump to continue providing Poltorak’s crisis-stricken country with political and military assistance, urging Trump to continue sanctions against Russia to deter "further escalation" of the war in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 01.21.17)
  • Speaking during a two-day visit to Kiev, U.K. Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has said the United Kingdom stands firmly alongside Ukraine as the British army prepares to broaden its already extended training package to all of the country’s armed forces. He also announced a Royal Navy warship will visit Odessa in the summer, the first such visit to the country since 2008. (UK Government, 01.20.17, Telegraph, 01.20.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Steven Pifer of Brookings Institution wrote: “First, sanctions should be related to particular actions, and the Kremlin should have a clear understanding of what it must do to gain sanctions relief. … Second, set realistic conditions for sanctions relief. … Third, do not double sanctions up.” (Brookings, 01.18.17)


  • French presidential front-runner Francois Fillon reached out to German Chancellor Angela Merkel with calls for a stronger joint defense posture and better relations with Russia as Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House shifts Europe’s security debate. To think that Russia can be “brought to its knees” with economic sanctions is “naive,” Fillon told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, arguing instead for an economic partnership and the convening of a security conference once Russia respects the Minsk peace accord for eastern Ukraine. "I am convinced that the economic sanctions are totally ineffective," Fillon told reporters after meeting with Merkel. While Germany is all in favor of good relations with Russia, “we’ve had a very real-world problem for years now” with Russia’s encroachment on Ukraine, Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin shortly before the talks. (Bloomberg, 01.23.17, RFE/RL, 01.23.17)
  • Nikolas Gvosdev, a scholar of U.S.-Russia relations, wrote:  “A year ago, I was hearing confident predictions about how Western sanctions, low energy prices and military quagmires (aided by assistance to Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian military) would force the Russian government to change course, especially in Ukraine and Syria. Today, [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad is in a stronger position than at any time since the start of the war in 2011 (and will still be in office after Barack Obama leaves), the Russians show no signs of leaving Crimea or abandoning the Donbas, and the Saudis negotiated an end to the oil price war while the European and Japanese sanctions regimes on Russia appear to be on their last legs. It is true that a plan never survives first contact with the enemy, but this also suggests that some of the analytical assumptions about Russia were flawed.” (The National Interest, 01.17.17)
  • Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, wrote: “Rejecting any manifestation of spheres of influence is either naïve or supremely arrogant. Russia is hardly the only country to regard the concept as important for its security. Or do U.S. officials believe that Chinese actions in the South China Sea, Turkey’s policies toward Iraq and Syria, and Saudi Arabia’s actions in Bahrain and Yemen do not involve such a consideration?” (The National Interest, 01.19.17)

Other important news:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said that "some politicians in Kiev and Moscow" are pushing to force Ukraine to hold early parliamentary elections in order "to destabilize our country." Poroshenko also said world powers should keep sanctions on Russia, rejecting U.S. President Donald Trump's proposal to consider reducing the penalties if Moscow proved a useful ally. (Reuters, 01.23.17, RFE/RL, 01.22.17)
  • In the Donetsk region, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine recorded a similar number of ceasefire violations between the evenings of Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 and the previous reporting period, and more from the evenings of Jan. 21 to Jan. 22. The Mission recorded fewer ceasefire violations in the Luhansk region from the evening of Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 compared with the previous reporting period and more from the evenings of Jan. 21 to Jan. 22. (OSCE, 01.23.17)
  • Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case into five Russian citizens suspected of participating in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of the Ukrainian far-right group Right Sector. (The Moscow Times, 01.23.17)
  • Moldovan President Igor Dodon said that if a new parliament due to be elected in 2018 decided to terminate Moldova's 2014 Association Agreement with the European Union, he would "certainly" support that policy. (RFE/RL, 01.23.17)
  • Defense cuts have “effectively removed” Britain’s ability to “deliver and sustain” an effective fighting force against a “competent” enemy such as Russia, according to the British army’s think tank, the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research. It warns that the risk of the army’s one remaining fighting division being wiped out in an afternoon will “weigh heavily” on commanders. (The Times, 01.22.17)