Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 14-21, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, according to the annual World Energy Outlook. (Independent, 11.16.17)
  • Russia’s central bank has the tools to address market shocks if the United States applies new sanctions on Russian treasury bonds, its central bank head said Nov. 16. Washington is considering expanding sanctions against Russia and may impose restrictions on buying Russian bonds, known as OFZs and popular among international investors. Foreign investors held a record high 2.18 trillion rubles ($36.46 billion) of OFZs as of Oct. 1, according to central bank data. (Reuters, 11.16.17)
  • The reconciled version of the 2018 NDAA, which the House agreed to Nov. 14, included Section 1232, which would bar the executive branch from using any Department of Defense funds to “implement any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea” absent a waiver. (Lawfare, 11.15.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Atlantic Council report: “At first blush, parties like the leftist Spanish Podemos, the nationalist Northern League and populist 5 Star Movement (M5S) in Italy, and the governing Syriza party in Greece appear to have little in common in terms of policy… Despite significant differences in their political visions, however, these parties share one thing: they have all sought to align themselves with Putin’s Russia.” (November 2017)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and five were wounded in action in eastern Ukraine in the week of Nov. 15-Nov. 21, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. Three more Ukrainian servicemen died in “a non-battle incident” at a military unit in the operation’s Donetsk sector and is being investigated. A police major was killed and two police officers were wounded when their car hit an anti-tank mine in Donetsk region. At least one separatist fighter’s death has been reported for the period by Eduard Basurin, a military commander in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. (UNIAN, 11.21.17, 11.18.17, 11.20.17, 11.19.17, 11.20.17, 11.15.17, Donetsk News Agency, 11.21.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Nov. 21 that 469 Ukrainian paratroopers have been killed during the fighting in eastern Ukraine. (UNIAN, 11.21.17)
  • The United Nations reports that the Donbass region is becoming one of the most mined areas in the world. Anti-vehicle mines in particular kill more people here than anywhere else in the world, researchers say—surpassing the numbers of victims in Syria, Yemen or battlefields across Africa. The Halo Trust, a humanitarian mine-clearance organization, estimates that land mines have caused 1,796 casualties in eastern Ukraine—among them 238 civilians killed and another 491 injured—since the start of the war in 2014. (The Washington Post, 11.18.17)
  • At least two civilian women were hospitalized Nov. 13-14 in eastern Ukraine after sustaining injuries related to the ongoing conflict: One was reportedly shot during a purported document check by “two armed men wearing military-style clothes with Ukrainian insignias, as well as balaclavas”; the other was admitted with shrapnel wounds after an explosion in a field. (OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, 11.16.17)
  • The European Union has slapped a travel ban and asset freeze on the top official in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. (AP, 11.21.17)

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

  • The U.S. has approved the $10.5 billion sale of a Patriot anti-missile system to NATO ally Poland. Eastern European NATO states have been ramping up their military capabilities in the face of perceived Russian aggression. (DW, 11.18.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • The doors of NATO are opened for Ukraine, although the decision to allow Ukraine to join the Alliance will be taken by all 29 members, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg has said. (Interfax-Ukraine, 11.18.17)

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

  • No significant developments.

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • The Senate-approved NDAA provides $4.6 billion for deterring Russia in Europe and some $350 million in defense support to Ukraine. (UNIAN, 11.17.17)
  • Senior aides will present U.S. President Donald Trump with a $47 million plan to finance and sell high-tech defensive weapons to Ukraine to bolster its efforts to repel Russian aggression in the region. The National Security Council decided Nov. 16 to greenlight the presentation. (RFE/RL, 11.19.17, ABC, 11.17.17)
  • Several U.S. officials have earlier said the White House has approved in principle providing Ukraine with lethal weapons, including Javelin antitank weapons, the Wall Street Journal has reported. However, in an interview with TASS, a White House official strongly rejected an earlier U.S. media report that Washington has made a decision to start supplying Ukraine with weapons. Should the United States begin supplying lethal weapons to Kiev, this step would cause the situation around Donbass to deteriorate and would put further strain on relations with Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax. (Russia Matters, 11.16.16)
  • Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin says his country would like Canada to provide it with defensive weapons, a need he cites just as a U.S. aid package containing such assets is reportedly making its way to Congress and the White House for approval. (Globe and Mail, 11.19.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Steven Pifer and John Herbst, two former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine, write: “While looking for a way to help the Kremlin out of what increasingly appears to be a Donbas quagmire, the administration should also seek to raise the costs to Moscow of its current course. One way is to increase sanctions, building on the recent legislation enacted by Congress… Another way is to provide lethal military assistance. That would improve the Ukrainian army’s ability to deter and defend. It would also send a strong signal to Moscow that the United States will firmly back Ukraine against Russian aggression.” (Brookings Institution, 11.17.17)
  • Doug Bandow, a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, writes: “The Trump administration reportedly plans to propose a peacekeeping force for Ukraine. The initiative would have a greater chance of success if Washington offered a package that made Ukraine a neutral country, backed by a promise not to further expand NATO.” (The National Interest, 11.13.17)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • In a telephone conversation Nov. 21 with Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there is no real alternative to unconditional compliance with the Minsk agreements, the Kremlin press service says. Following the conversation between Putin and Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (TASS, 11.21.17, Reuters, 11.21.17)
  • There is a substantial difference between how Germany and France envisage the possible deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s position, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told journalists Nov. 17. (Reuters, 11.17.17)
  • Ukraine's main security agency says it welcomes "any steps" by Russia that would facilitate exchanges of people held by Kiev and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) made the remark in a brief statement on Nov. 16, a day after Putin told separatist leaders in Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions that he favored a plan for a prisoner swap with Kiev. (RFE/RL, 11.16.17)
  • Ukraine has marked the Day of Dignity and Freedom, a holiday commemorating the beginning of the Euromaidan protests that started in November 2013 and pushed former President Viktor Yanukovych from power three months later. (RFE/RL, 11.21.17)
  • Ukraine said Nov. 21 that it had expelled a Belarussian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move linked to allegations from Belarus that the Ukrainian defense ministry had set up a spy ring in Minsk.  (Reuters, 11.21.17)
  • Ukraine’s intelligence agency said Nov. 18 it has detained a man wanted for the high-profile murder of Paul Klebnikov, a U.S.-born editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition, who was gunned down in Russia 13 years ago. (AP, 11.18.17)
  • Armed men seized the capital of a Russia-backed separatist republic in eastern Ukraine amid a power struggle between two top officials. The takeover of Luhansk on Nov. 21 followed a decision by Igor Plotnitsky, the head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, to fire his interior minister, Igor Kornet, the night before. Russia’s RBC website reported, citing an anonymous source close to Russia’s pointman for Ukraine, Vladislav Surkov, that the Kremlin has sided with the police chief. (RFE/RL, 11.21.17, Reuters, 11.21.17, Telegraph, 11.21.17, Russia Matters, 11.21.17)
  • In a new challenge to the Ukrainian leadership, opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, said Nov. 20 that Ukraine needs a new Cabinet and he’s ready to lead it. (AP, 11.20.17)
  • Ukrainian anticorruption investigators have opened a criminal case into suspected unlawful enrichment by the country’s powerful prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko. (RFE/RL, 11.17.17)
  • Johannes Hahn, the EU's commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, says he is working on lowering the mobile-phone roaming tariffs between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, and is aiming for their eventual abolition. (RFE/RL, 11.16.17)
  • Putin has said he had briefed his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman on the Russian vision of a settlement in Ukraine. Zeman has called on the West and Russia to end mutual sanctions. (TASS, 11.21.17)
  • Ukraine and the United States refused on Nov. 16 to support a Russia-sponsored U.N. resolution against the glorification of Nazism. (TASS, 11.20.17)
  • Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has decided to expel Russian journalist Igor Petrashevich from the country and ban him from entering Ukraine for three years, an SBU spokeswoman said Nov. 21. (TASS, 11.21.17)