Ukraine Conflict Monitor, July 25-Aug. 1, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • A Soyuz rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 28 carrying a three-man crew from Russia, the United States and Italy for a five-month mission on the orbiting International Space Station. (RFE/RL, 07.28.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • A London court has agreed to a request from Ukraine to suspend judgment in a $3 billion Eurobond case brought by Russia until Kiev's appeal against the verdict is concluded, the Ukrainian finance ministry said July 26. (Reuters, 07.26.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Two civilians were wounded on July 25 in Donetsk in shelling by Ukrainian troops. From July 29 to July 30, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council reported one soldier killed and nine others injured in intensified fighting with Russia-backed separatists in the front-line town of Krasnohorivka. From July 25 to Aug. 1, a total of three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded in action in the Donbas, the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) headquarters has reported. (TASS, 07.26.17, RFE/RL, 07.30.17, UNIAN, 07.27.17, 07.28.17, 07.30.17, 07.31.17, 08.01.17)
  • The fighting in eastern Ukraine has claimed at least 59 civilian lives since the beginning of 2017, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said July 28. (Xinhua, 07.29.17)
  • Since 2014 repeated cyberattacks in Ukraine have knocked out power supplies, frozen supermarket tills, affected radiation monitoring at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and forced authorities to prop up the hryvnia currency after banks' IT systems crashed. (Reuters, 08.01.17)
  • The U.S. Senate gave final approval to legislation strengthening sanctions on Russia and giving Congress the power to block President Donald Trump from lifting them, setting up a possible clash with the White House. The measure, passed 98-2 on July 27 by the Senate, has already cleared the House. Under the bill, the president is required to notify Congress before making any alterations to Russia sanctions policy, and lawmakers then have 30 days in which they can block the president from implementing those changes. Asked on July 31 when Trump would sign the bill, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "We'll let you know when that's going to happen." (Bloomberg, 07.27.17, AP, 07.27.17, The Washington Post, 07.31.17)
  • Russia retaliated by asserting that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok should reduce the number of their "diplomatic and technical employees" to 455. Unlike former U.S. President Barack Obama, who ordered the expelled Russians to leave this country within 72 hours, the Kremlin said that it would wait until Sept. 1 for 755 U.S. diplomatic employees to wind up their affairs, and that Washington could choose which ones would leave. Although there are more than 1,200 people working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and three consulates, only about 300 are believed to be Americans. U.S. President Donald Trump said nothing July 31 in response to Russia's planned expulsion of hundreds of American diplomats. (The Washington Post, 07.28.17, The Washington Post, 07.31.17)

Impact of Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine on other countries:

  • Romania's defense minister confirmed on July 26 that the country intends to buy Patriot missiles worth $3.9 billion dollars from the United States. (AP, 07.26.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • “Under President Donald Trump, the United States stands firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense—an attack on one of us is an attack on us all,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pencetold reporters after meeting with the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Estonian capital of Tallinn. (AP, 07.31.17)

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

  • Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War. The troops will be conducting military maneuvers known as Zapad, Russian for “west,” in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. The drills, scheduled for Sept. 14 to 20, will feature a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit, the First Guards Tank Army. In 1968, it participated in the invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the Prague Spring. (New York Times, 07.31.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • The U.S. Pentagon and State Department have devised plans to supply Ukraine with Javelin antitank missiles and other weaponry and are seeking White House approval, U.S. officials said. A senior administration official said there has been no decision on the armaments proposal and it wasn’t discussed at a high-level White House meeting on Russia last week. The official said U.S. President Donald Trump hasn’t been briefed on the plan and his position isn’t known. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has endorsed the plan, according to U.S. officials. U.S. officials said the plan would be to deploy the anti-tank missiles with Ukrainian troops stationed away from the front lines of the conflict—part of an effort by policy makers to limit the risks of escalation and defuse criticism that the moves could encourage offensive action by Kiev. (Wall Street Journal, 07.31.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “Promote contacts between Secretary of Defense Mattis and the Russian defense minister and a NATO-Russia military-to-military channel to discuss steps to avoid accident or miscalculation when NATO and Russian military units operate in close proximity in/near Europe.” (Brookings Institution/European Leadership Network, 07.26.17)
  • Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “Engage with Ukrainian, Russian, German and French officials on ending the Ukraine-Russia conflict in eastern Ukraine, but understand that progress requires that Moscow decide it wants a settlement, not a simmering conflict to put pressure on and destabilize Kiev.” (Brookings Institution/European Leadership Network, 07.26.17)
  • George Beebe, director of the Center for the National Interest’s intelligence program, writes: “Given the charged domestic climates in Washington and Moscow, an escalatory cycle leading to U.S.-Russian confrontation is looming, but it is not inevitable. … Misinterpreting Russian signals is our most immediate danger as we consider next steps. Putin’s willingness to leave space for negotiation can be misread as weakness.” (The National Interest, 07.31.17)


  • Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky, writes: "It would, however, be reasonable to expect that the rebels will be armed with more modern hardware if U.S. supplies [of Javelin anti-tank missiles] start coming in. That can only make the war, which has already taken 10,000 lives, even deadlier." (Bloomberg, 08.01.17)
  • Vera Mironova and Ekaterina Sergatskova, an expert in international security and a journalist based in Ukraine, write: “Ukraine’s campaign to integrate independent armed groups has been successful so far. Almost all the groups integrated, and the groups’ members have become functional parts of the Ukrainian armed forces, preventing the potential for separate, chaotic chains of command.” (Foreign Affairs, 08.01.17)
  • Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “Russia’s conflict is with (most of) Washington, not with the rest of the United States. That conflict, in a nutshell, is about the world order and America’s—and Russia’s—place and role in it. That conflict will ultimately be resolved not in a U.S.-Russian confrontation but by what happens internally in both countries and by what others—above all China, but also others: Europe, India et al.—will be able to achieve.” (Foreign Policy, 07.31.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi that the U.S. “strongly” supports Georgia’s ambition of joining NATO. The vice president is also attending joint military exercises involving as many as 800 Georgian and 1,600 U.S. troops during his visit. The Noble Partner 2017 drills also include German, U.K., Turkish, Slovenian, Ukrainian and Armenian forces. (Bloomberg, 08.01.17)
  • A Pennsylvania company will send 700,000 tons of coal to Ukraine in a deal the Trump administration heralded as an important tool to undercut the power Russia has over its European neighbors. (Bloomberg, 07.31.17)
  • When Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently promised that four Siemens gas turbines sold last year for use in a Russian power plant would reach their intended destination, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government took the Russian president's assurances to heart. Siemens now says the turbines have wound up in Crimea, in violation of sanctions that ban such trade with the Ukrainian province seized by Russia in 2014. (Wall Street Journal, 07.31.17) 
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described former Georgian president and Ukrainian governor Mikheil Saakashvili being stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship as “tragicomedy” in a Facebook post on July 27. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree July 26 that deprived Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship. In an Aug. 1 video press conference organized by his Movement of New Forces opposition party in its Kiev headquarters, Saakashvili, who is currently in the United States, said Poroshenko's decision to annul his citizenship was "illegal" and "weakened democracy in Ukraine." (The Moscow Times, 07.27.17, RFE/RL, 07.27.17, RFE/RL, 08.01.17)
  • Ukrainian citizen Alexei Sizonovich has been given a 12 year prison sentence after being found guilty of plotting terror attacks in Russia’s Rostov region. (The Moscow Times, 07.31.17)