Ukraine Conflict Monitor, May 23-30, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • U.S. oil output has surged since the OPEC deal, and is now on pace to hit nearly 9.9 million barrels a day in 2018, a record, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. (Wall Street Journal , 05.24.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Russia's state-owned railway monopoly is refusing most requests to take cargo from Russia to ports in Latvia, industry executives said, a serious blow to the Baltic state which depends on the transit trade. (Reuters, 05.23.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Russia demanded on May 26 that Ukraine should pay $325 million now while awaiting the outcome of a legal dispute over $3 billion lent by Moscow to Kiev in 2013. (Reuters, 05.26.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Eight civilians were injured in the town of Krasnohorivka on May 27-28 and three more were injured in the Luhansk region on May 29, according to Ukrainian authorities. Sixteen Ukrainian soldiers were injured from May 25 to May 30, the press service of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Headquarters reports. In 2017, there have been 219 confirmed civilian casualties, with 44 killed and 175 injured, a 110% increase compared with same period in 2016, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine reports. (RFE/RL, 05.29.17, UNIAN, 05.30.17, Kyiv Post, 05.30.17, UNIAN, 05.30.17, UNIAN, 05.28.17, OSCE, 05.25.17)
  • The Security Services of Ukraine raided the offices of Russian tech company Yandex in the Ukrainian cities of Kiev and Odessa. A spokesperson for the security services said Yandex was being investigated for “treason.” (The Moscow Times, 05.30.17)

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

  • European Council President Donald Tusk said on May 25 that U.S. President Donald Trump and senior EU officials appeared to be "on the same line" with regard to the situation in Ukraine, but that he was not sure that "we have a common position, common opinion about Russia.” Trump and Tusk differed about the intentions and policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tusk expressed a far more skeptical view of the Russians in the talks while Trump reportedly referred in breathtaking terms to the potential to deal with Putin. Tusk then urged Group of Seven leaders on May 26 to stick firmly to their sanctions policy on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Tusk was responding to comments by White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who appeared to differ from those of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has repeatedly said sanctions must remain until Minsk is put in place. “I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don’t have a position," Cohn said on May 25. Cohn then told reporters on May 26 that “[The White House] is not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we are probably looking to get tougher on Russia.” Tillerson said Russia won’t be allowed back in the Group of Seven major economies unless it respects “Ukrainian sovereignty.” (Reuters, 05.26.17, RFE/RL, 05.25.17, New York Times, 05.25.17, ABC News, 05.26.17, Financial Times, 05.26.17, AP, 05.25.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Some 200 troops and 60 combat vehicles from Norway arrived in Lithuania on May 30, completing a multinational NATO unit of more than 1,000 soldiers in the Baltic nation neighboring Russia. (AP, 05.30.17)

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

  • The NATO fighter aircraft supporting the Baltic Air Policing mission in the Baltic States conducted six alert scrambles to identify and escort Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea in one week. The spike in alert scrambles comes after some weeks of calm, with just six scrambles in the period between March 27 and May 22. (Aviationist, 05.29.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Georgetown professor and former U.S. security official Charles Kupchan writes that the West's strategy of expanding NATO has backfired and should end, with a "natural strategic boundary" in the Balkans. This would be prudent in terms of both relations with Russia and the bloc's commitment to collective defense. That said, he concludes that "calling a halt to NATO enlargement should not come without strings attached; Moscow needs to take reciprocal steps. Among the options on the table should be Russia's readiness to end the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, move toward resolution of 'frozen conflicts' elsewhere in Europe and de-escalate tensions with NATO through arms control and military-to-military exchanges. Russian leaders from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin have consistently blamed NATO enlargement for spoiling the West's relationship with Russia. Let's test them." (New York Times, 05.26.17)

Other important news:

  • French President Emmanuel Macron said on May 29 that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin were agreed the time was right for a new round of peace talks on Ukraine. Macron said last week that he wanted to bring together soon the “Normandy format” which groups the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine and which met first in Normandy in northwest France. On May 29, Macron said Putin shared the same hope, adding that the talks should take place "in days or weeks." Macron is now keen to reset the relationship with Moscow, aides say. “The idea is to keep Russia close to Europe,” an adviser to Macron said before the meeting. (Reuters, 05.29.17, Financial Times, 05.29.17)
  • In their Oval Office meeting in March, U.S. President Donald Trump told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Ukraine crisis was Europe's responsibility and that the United States wouldn't get heavily involved, according to two officials briefed on the discussion. Only two months later, the Trump administration is reversing course and planning to re-engage on Ukraine in a significant way. (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)
  • When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in March, she brought a 1980s map of the former Soviet Union and noted the way its borders stretched for hundreds of miles to the west of Russia’s current boundary. The German leader's point was that Putin laments the Soviet Union’s demise and, left unchecked, would happily restore its former borders. (Politico, 05.25.16)
  • "We know that Russia will only move if the Americans will be on board and press them to do more for a cease-fire and for a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the region," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told The Washington Post after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 17. "The Russians know that the behavior of Russia in Ukraine is a precondition to [U.S.] cooperation with Russia in other fields." (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)
  • Deputy foreign ministers of the Normandy-format member-countries (France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia) met May 30 in Berlin to discuss progress on a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kiev's ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, has said on Twitter. Germany’s Foreign Ministry said a day earlier that the meeting had been scheduled due to the “difficult and deteriorating” situation in the region. (Interfax-Ukraine, 05.30.17, AP, 05.29.17)
  • The Dutch Senate has approved the European Union's Association Agreement with Ukraine, paving the way for ratification of the pact strengthening ties between the EU and Kiev. (RFE/RL, 05.30.17)
  • Almost 1.3 million Ukrainians last year received the temporary work registrations that Poland grants to citizens of its eastern neighbor, and 116,000 more received longer-term work permits. Both figures have leapt six-fold since 2013, driven largely by the economic slump that followed Ukraine’s 2014 pro-western revolution and the Russian-fomented conflict in the country’s east. (Financial Times, 05.28.17)
  • The International Monetary Fund said on May 25 that it will only release a new tranche payment to Ukraine once parliament approves a long-stalled pension system overhaul and land privatization legislation. (IMF, 05.26.17)
  • Ukrainian law enforcement agents have arrested 23 former high-ranking tax-administration officials suspected of helping the government of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych to defraud the state of nearly 97 billion hryvnas ($4 billion) in what authorities called the largest-ever operation of its kind there. (RFE/RL, 05.24.17)
  • Guillaume Cuvelier, a well-known militant who fought with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and participated in far-right European politics before joining the U.S. Army, has been discharged from the military, a spokeswoman for the Army said. (The Washington Post, 05.29.17)