Ukraine Conflict Monitor, June 13-20, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • The U.S. Senate voted 98-2 on June 15 to approve a sweeping sanctions bill that punishes Iran and Russia. The measure calls for strengthening current Russia sanctions and imposing new ones on a broad range of people, including Russians engaged in corruption, individuals responsible for human rights abuses and anyone supplying weapons to Assad. Broad new sanctions would be imposed on Russia’s mining, metals, shipping and railways sectors. The bill would also put into law sanctions previously established by Obama’s executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The bill stipulated mandatory sanctions on any “person” (i.e., individual or entity) “that engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.” At the same time the bill allows NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines. The bill also brings energy projects in which Russian companies are involved—regardless of where they are located—under the purview of sanctions, and it requires the U.S. government to impose sanctions on foreign firms that make significant investments in next-generation Russian oil projects. While most sanctions in the Senate bill are mandatory, one important measure is discretionary: sanctions on investment in the construction of Russian energy export pipelines. (RFE/RL, 06.16.17, AP, 06.15.17, Euroactiv, 06.16.17, Atlantic Council, 06.14.17)
    • Russian President Vladimir Putin told a call-in show on June 15 that the U.S. Senate move to tighten sanctions against Moscow is part of efforts to contain Russia. He described the allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election as a reflection of “exacerbating political infighting.” Putin also said that Russia would remove its sanctions on other countries if they removed their sanctions imposed on Moscow. The Kremlin takes an extremely negative view of the proposed new U.S. sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (Reuters, 06.15.17, AP, 06.15.17, Reuters, 06.16.17)
    • The head of Ukraine's state energy company cheered the U.S. Senate's decision to take aim at a Russian gas pipeline to Germany in sanctions legislation last week and urged the Trump administration to penalize companies helping Russia execute the project. (Wall Street Journal, 06.19.17)
  • There’s yet another concern growing as oil prices continue to erode: A record U.S. fracklog. There were 5,946 drilled-but-uncompleted wells in the nation’s oilfields at the end of May, the most in at least three years, according to estimates by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (Bloomberg, 06.19.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • From mid-April 2014 to mid-March 2017, at least 9,940 people have been killed and 23,455 wounded in Eastern Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As of June 15, 47 civilians have been killed and 222 wounded in eastern Ukraine since Jan. 1, 2017, according to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Also, at least 1.6 million Ukrainians moved west toward Ukraine’s capital, Kiev as a result of the fighting in the country’s east, according to the U.N. Russia says that 2.6 million Ukrainians moved east. Moscow is alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence in Donbas and the growing death toll among the civilians, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said June 14, commenting on a report of the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. (New York Times, 06.20.17, UNIAN, 06.17.17, TASS, 06.14.17)
  • More than 12,000 Ukrainian army soldiers have been either killed or injured in the conflict with independence-seeking insurgents in the country's eastern regions, the Ukrainian military said June 16. From June 13 to June 20 alone, a total of three Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 28 wounded in action in the Donbas, the press center of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) headquarters has reported. (Xinhua, 06.16.17, UNIAN, 06.20.17, UNIAN, 06.19.17, UNIAN, 06.18.17, UNIAN, 06.17.17, UNIAN, 06.16.17, UNIAN, 06.15.17, UNIAN, 06.14.17)
  • The Ukrainian military shelled the territory of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) more than 60 times from June 17 to June 18 and 71 times from June 16 to June 17, DPR command reported. The self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) was shelled 12 times from June 17 to June 18 and 13 times from June 16 to June 17, LPR defense authorities reported. (TASS, 06.18.17, TASS, 06.18.17, TASS, 06.17.17, TASS, 06.17.17)
  • The U.S. Treasury added 38 individuals and entities June 20 to the list of those sanctioned because of Russia's actions in Ukraine. In a statement, the Treasury said the move "reinforced" the U.S. sanctions, which "will not be lifted until Russia ends its occupation of the peninsula." The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against a private military company “Wagner” and Concord catering billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin. The sanctions list also includes Dmitri Utkin, who, according to the American authorities, associated with the Wagner group. Earlier, the Russian media reported that Utkin organized this private military company. Russian MC Night Wolves was also sanctioned. (NBC, 06.20.17, Micetimes. 06.20.17,, 06.20.17)
    • Russia has already begun contemplating punitive measures to respond to the latest expansion of U.S. sanctions on Russia, the country’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by as saying. (Russia Matters, 06.20.17)
  • The European Union has extended sanctions against Russia for a year over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The sanctions are now set to run until June 23, 2018, and apply to EU citizens and companies. They ban the import of products from Crimea and Sevastopol, halt any European investment or real estate purchases and stop cruise ships from stopping there. (AP, 06.19.17)

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

  • U.S. and British troops have carried out the first large-scale NATO defensive drill on the border between Poland and Lithuania, rehearsing for a possible scenario in which Russia might try to sever the Baltic States from the rest of the Western alliance. The frontier runs for 104 km (65 miles) through farmland, woods and low hills, in an area known as the Suwalki Gap. If seized by Russia, it would cut off Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (Reuters, 06.18.17)
    • Britain’s defense minister Michael Fallon said on June 15 that Russian aggression toward NATO is increasing and the alliance was right to have agreed to a “very high readiness taskforce.” (AP, 06.15.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Eugene Rumer, director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program, wrote: “That Russian leaders view NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee seriously has been reflected in their determination to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from obtaining that guarantee.” (Carnegie Endowment, 06.14.17)

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

  • The Pentagon on June 20 accused Russia of carrying out an unsafe intercept of a U.S. RC-135 spy plane in international airspace over the Baltic Sea a day earlier, accusing the Russian pilot of flying too fast and having "poor control" over his SU-27 fighter jet. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said the U.S. aircraft "did nothing to provoke this behavior." Russia had earlier on June 20 blamed the United States for what appeared to be the same incident. (Reuters, 06.20.17)
  • On June 14 and 15, several air assets, including Beriev A-50, Ilyushin Il-22, Sukhoi Su-24, Sukhoi Su-27, Sukhoi Su-34 and Tupolev Tu-160 aircraft, flew close to Finnish airspace, forcing the Finnish Air Force to scramble its F/A-18 Hornet on quick reaction alert in order to intercept the Russian aircraft. (The Aviationist, 06.15.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • RAND Corporation report: “Ensure Poland is able to provide a secure logistics and staging point for forward-based U.S./NATO operations. Support Swedish and Finnish goals of defending their airspace confidently for long periods with minimal U.S. and NATO support. Ensure the Baltic States are able to receive allied ground forces and support allied air superiority forces and bolster their contributions to air and missile defenses and Estonia's regional cyber defense preeminence.” (RAND, June 2017)
  • Former U.S. Agency for International Development project officer Joshua Cohen writes: “As Ukraine's fight against Russian-supported separatists continues, Kiev faces another threat to its long-term sovereignty: powerful right-wing ultranationalist groups. First, authorities should enact a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on far-right violence. Most importantly, the government must also break any connections between law enforcement agencies and far-right organizations.” (The Washington Post, 06.15.17)


  • A report by the European Leadership Network: “While relations between the EU and Russia have been sustained in some areas, there are worrying and significant areas of decline that have characterized this new normal. Firstly, at the political level, both Russia and the EU increasingly identify themselves ideologically in opposition to the other. Secondly, with regard to public perception of the other, it seems that a fundamental change took place in 2014 … the dramatic surge in negative assessments of the other side and the sharp drop in terms of trust. Thirdly, Ukraine and other common neighborhood countries continue to suffer from the consequences of the crisis.” (European Leadership Network, June 2017)
  • Nathan Hodge and Julian E. Barnes, the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau chief and a reporter for the paper, wrote: “In conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, chief of Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov has pioneered new approaches to hybrid war by combining traditional military weaponry with powerful nonlethal tools such as cyberwarfare, fake news and elaborate deception.” (Wall Street Journal, 06.16.17)

Other important news:

  • Ukraine’s leader Petro Poroshenko met with U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Washington on June 20. Poroshenko and Pence were scheduled to “drop in” on a meeting between Trump and his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster at 11 a.m. in the U.S. capital, according to the White House schedule. "That's a great honor and a great pleasure to be to be together with you, dear Mr. President, one of the most reliable supporter and strategic partner for Ukraine," Poroshenko told Trump in the Oval Office. A brief White House statement released after the meeting said the two discussed "support for the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and President Poroshenko's reform agenda and anticorruption efforts." Poroshenko also attended more extensive meetings with Pence and the Trump administration’s top national security advisers. (Bloomberg, 06.20.17, RFE/RL, 06.20.17, The Washington Post, 06.20.17)
  • The Ukrainian parliament is preparing a new law on the return of the eastern region of Donbas under Kiev's sovereignty, a senior parliamentary official said June 19. The planned legislation enables Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to impose a martial law in the region if needed, Iryna Lutsenko, Poroshenko's representative in the parliament said. “A separate bill is needed because up till now the anti-terrorist operation was led by Ukraine’s Security Service, whereas martial law implies that powers will be handed over to the Defense Ministry. Both power structures and local authorities on those territories to be under martial law status should subordinate to the military forces,” a source familiar with the matter told Russia’s Nezavismaya Gazeta. The Kremlin has no detailed information yet if the Minsk Accords are incorporated in Kiev’s plan for Donbas reintegration, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media. (Xinhua, 06.19.17, TASS, 06.19.17, TASS, 06.20.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson  has crafted a three-point framework for future U.S.-Russia relations that takes a narrow view of what can be achieved between the former Cold War adversaries, but seeks a constructive working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a limited set of issues. A key difference from the Obama-era strategy is that the Tillerson framework does not expressly commit to building up the "resilience" of Russian neighbors. (BuzzFeed, 06.19.17)
    • Russia is not considering any counter-demands regarding the normalization of U.S.-Russia relations in response to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s plan, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media, TASS reports. (TASS, 06.20.17)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled the U.S. could ease off demands that Russia abide by the Minsk agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine, telling lawmakers that the administration doesn’t want to be “handcuffed” if Moscow and Kiev can settle their dispute another way. (Bloomberg, 06.14.17)
  • Ukrainian authorities say they have detained suspects linked to the assassination of former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov. (RFE/RL, 06.16.17)
  • In August 2016, as tension mounted over Russia's role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army. Kilimnik is of interest to investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, said a person familiar with the inquiry. Kilimnik told The Post in his written statement that he has "no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service." (The Washington Post, 06.19.17)