Ukraine Conflict Monitor, June 28 - July 11, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • See Analysis section below.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has affirmed the alliance's "unwavering support" for Ukraine's territorial integrity and has called on Russia to remove its "thousands of soldiers from Ukraine and stop supporting the militants with command-and-control and military equipment." Stoltenberg made the comments in Kiev after talks with President Petro Poroshenko and other officials on July 10. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, reacting to Stoltenberg's comment, repeated Russia's assertion that it had never had troops in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 07.10.17, Reuters, 07.10.17)
  • The European Union's 28 member states have formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, the final step in the ratification process after years of political twists and turns. The deal, which strengthens ties between the EU and Kiev, will enter into force on Sept. 1. Russia has indicated that it objects to the trade-related part of the EU-Ukraine agreement, called the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Minutes of a June 29 meeting of the WTO’s Committee on Regional Trade Agreements that were published on July 11 record Russia's representative as saying the EU-Ukraine DCFTA was "an exemplary case of a situation where a free trade area worsened trade conditions for other trading partners." (RFE/RL, 07.11.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Not everybody in Europe considers energy cooperation with Russia harmful or dangerous, and Russia’s energy expansion in Europe is, to a significant degree, based on economic reasoning rather than political doctrine. Europeans had several decades to find and develop alternatives to Russian gas; they have not done so, because Russia remains an attractive source. (The National Interest, 07.06.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson assured Ukraine’s leader on July 9 that the United States would not lift economic sanctions against Russia until it “reverses the actions” that prompted them and restores the country’s “territorial integrity,” appearing to set the same high bar for sanctions relief that the Obama administration did. (New York Times, 07.09.17)
  • The European Union has officially extended economic sanctions against Russia by six months for destabilizing Ukraine. (AP, 06.28.17)

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

  • Siemens, one of Germany’s biggest companies, said July 10 that it had become an unwilling pawn in a scheme to evade sanctions against Russia and break a de facto blockade of electricity to the annexed territory Crimea. Siemens said a Russian customer—with close ties to the Kremlin—had illegally shipped two power-plant turbines to Crimea instead of their intended destination in southern Russia, flouting an agreement not to violate sanctions imposed by the international community after Russia annexed the territory from Ukraine in 2014. The incident threatens to strain relations between the countries. Germany’s ambassador to Moscow reportedly said that Russia will have seriously hurt its prospects for attracting investment if it is confirmed that Siemens-made turbines were delivered to Crimea. (New York Times, 07.10.17, Reuters, 07.11.17, RFE/RL, 07.10.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Ukraine will begin discussions with NATO on an action plan to get the country into the U.S.-led alliance, its leader said on July 10, while Kiev would work on reforms to meet membership standards by 2020. President Petro Poroshenko, whose country is fighting a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine, revived the prospect of NATO membership during a visit by NATO Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. The Kremlin quickly responded that Ukraine's potential membership in NATO would not boost stability and security in Europe. Most observers say any prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine is years off. No dates were issued for when talks on a membership action plan might begin and Poroshenko himself said: "This does not mean that we will soon be applying for membership." (Reuters, 07.10.17, Reuters, 07.10.17)

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

  • The United States deployed a battery of Patriot long-range anti-aircraft missiles in Lithuania to be used in NATO war games July 11—the first time the advanced defense system has been brought to the Baltics where Russia has air superiority. The battery was brought to the Siauliai military airbase July 10, ahead of the Tobruk Legacy exercise, and will be withdrawn when the exercise ends July 22. The NATO war games take place ahead of the large-scale Zapad 2017 exercise by Russia and Belarus, which NATO officials believe could bring more than 100,000 troops to the borders of Poland and the three Baltic NATO allies—the biggest such Russian maneuvers since 2013. (Reuters, 07.10.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • Patrick Shanahan, President Donald Trump’s nominee for deputy defense secretary, has endorsed providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, a reversal from past U.S. policy and from his refusal to offer his thoughts on the issue at his Senate confirmation hearing. “Yes. I support lethal defensive security assistance to Ukraine,” Shanahan said. (Bloomberg, 06.28.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Mr. Trump entered the meeting hoping to put an end to the scrutiny over his election. Mr. Putin wanted a way out of the Western sanctions that have hobbled the Russian economy since he annexed Crimea and interfered in Ukraine. Neither got what they wanted. By the end of the day, the two countries had taken only baby steps. There was a newly appointed American special envoy implementing the accords reached on Ukraine. (New York Times, 07.07.17)
  • Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman extols his government’s accomplishments in an op-ed, providing plentiful statistics on the country’s economic achievements. (Wall Street Journal, 07.04.17)
  • More than three years have passed since Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution, in which protestors took to the streets and ousted their corrupt leader Viktor Yanukovych. But reform has been slow in coming. To be fair, President Petro Poroshenko faces a Herculean task: protecting Ukraine from Russia’s ongoing aggression in the east while reforming the country in a way that is in keeping with the ideals—democracy, transparency and rule of law—that united Ukrainians during Euromaidan. So far, however, Poroshenko has not handled this dilemma very well. He has used a heavy hand in cracking down on anything Russian and seems, ironically, increasingly determined to adopt Moscow’s authoritarian methods even as he speaks the language of Brussels in advocating for democratic change. (Foreign Affairs, 06.29.17)

Other important news:

  • The U.S. has appointed Kurt Volker, a former ambassador to NATO and National Security Council director, to be special representative for Ukraine as the U.S. looks for new ways to break a deadlock with Russia over the three-year conflict there. Volker is widely respected as an accomplished diplomat, but in Ukraine he confronts his greatest challenge yet. (Bloomberg, 07.07.17, RFE/RL, 07.07.17, The National Interest, 07.10.17)
  • The five countries working together in the investigation of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 have picked the Netherlands as the country where suspects will be prosecuted. (Bloomberg, 07.05.17)
  • The Russian military has denied that a Russian man who was detained by government forces in eastern Ukraine in June is an active-duty serviceman. In a statement on July 10, Russia's Southern Military District said that Viktor Ageyev was discharged from the military in spring 2016 and now "has nothing to do with the Russian Army." (RFE/RL, 07.11.17)
  • Two Russian guards have been detained in Ukraine after crossing the border near the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, according to Russia's Federal Security Service on June 30. (Reuters, 06.30.17)
  • Ukraine said on July 1 that Russian security services were involved in a recent cyberattack on the country, with the aim of destroying important data and spreading panic. The SBU, Ukraine's state security service, said the attack, which started in Ukraine and spread around the world, was by the same hackers who attacked the Ukrainian power grid in December 2016. A Kremlin spokesman dismissed the claims as "unfounded blanket accusations." (Reuters, 07.01.17)
  • President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, received $17.1 million for his work with a Ukrainian political party, according to a registration document he filed with the U.S. government. (Bloomberg , 06.27.17)
  • Ukraine's Chief Military Prosecutor has said that authorities were looking for traces of involvement by Russia in the death of Col. Maksym Shapoval, a senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer was killed when a bomb detonated under his car in Kiev. (Wall Street Journal, 06.27.17)
  • Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that he will not participate in a high treason trial against him that is scheduled to resume in Kiev on July 6. (RFE/RL, 07.06.17)
  • Kiev’s plans to introduce advance biometric registration rules for Russian citizens going to Ukraine reveal its readiness to drop a new iron curtain and Moscow will keep a close eye on Ukraine’s innovations, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on July 11. The measures are to take effect Jan. 1, 2018. (TASS, 07.11.17)
  • Ukraine expects long-awaited state pension reforms to be passed after its parliament's summer break, the Ukrainian finance minister said on July 5, meaning its next tranche of IMF aid and a return to borrowing markets will not happen before August. (Reuters, 07.05.17)
  • Irish low-cost airline Ryanair has canceled plans to start flying to destinations in Ukraine, saying the main airport in the capital, Kiev, had not honored terms agreed earlier this year. (RFE/RL, 07.10.17)