Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 16-22, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • A U.S. appeals court on Nov. 21 denied a new trial for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year prison sentence for plotting to sell missiles to people he thought were Colombian rebels. (Reuters, 11.21.16)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • New York Times editorial: “After Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, it seems alarming that Bulgaria and Moldova, two states formerly under the Kremlin's yoke, both elected pro-Russian presidents on Sunday. The reasons may have been largely domestic, but the outcome is bound to further fray European cohesion.” (New York Times, 11.16.16)
  • On Nov. 20 voters in the first round of a French presidential primary for center-right candidates defied pollsters' predictions by throwing huge support behind French politician François Fillon. Fillon has set himself apart by calling for detente with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to better fight against Islamic State. He has indicated he favors cooler relations with the U.S., saying Europe shouldn't be Washington's "vassal." (Wall Street Journal, 11.21.16)
  • Juri Ratas, the new leader of a party whose strongest support comes from the country's ethnic Russians, has been named the next prime minister of Estonia. (New York Times, 11.20.16)
  • Russia has formally blocked professional social network LinkedIn Corp., its communications regulator Roskomnadzor said Nov. 17. The U.S. government is “deeply concerned” about Moscow’s decision to block the U.S.-based company’s website. (RFE/RL, 11.18.16, Wall Street Journal, 11.17.16)
  • A Soyuz capsule lifted off from the steppes of western Kazakhstan early Nov. 18 local time, carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA's Peggy Whitson to the International Space Station. (RFE/RL, 11.17.16)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • The Pentagon has notified Congress that it plans to stop buying Russian Mi17 helicopters for Afghanistan and will start buying American helicopters. (RFE/RL, 11.19.16)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama and EU leaders agreed on Nov. 18 to keep economic sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis as they put on a show of transatlantic unity on the U.S. leader’s farewell trip to Europe. The six government heads said sanctions must remain until the Minsk peace accord agreed in 2015 was implemented. Germany’s Angela Merkel said: “The situation in Ukraine has not improved… There is a lack of visible progress on Minsk.” (Financial Times, 11.18.16)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • "The appearance of the USA and NATO at Sevastopol naval base would have led to severe consequences. The base itself [in Sevastopol] does not mean anything really. I would like to note something here. Why do we so sharply react to NATO expansion? We are concerned about the decision-making practice. … What are we supposed to do? We should therefore take countermeasures, that is to aim our missile systems at the objects which, in our opinion, begin to threaten us. This situation is troublesome," Vladimir Putin said in a taped interview for the Oliver Stone-produced film “Ukraine on Fire,” which aired on Russian television Nov. 21. (, 11.21.16)
  • Prediction from Paul D. Miller, an academic, blogger and former White House staffer for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama: Vladimir “Putin’s next step is more dangerous than the previous ones, because he is likely to move into the Baltics, which are NATO members. He will not send large formations of uniformed Russian soldiers over the international border—even the most cautious NATO members will not ignore an overt conventional invasion. Instead, Putin will instigate an ambiguous militarized crisis using deniable proxies, probably in the next two years.” (Foreign Policy, 11.16.16)
  • Although the prospect of major-power mechanized ground war between the U.S. and Russia or China may not seem likely, the U.S. Army is tasked to be ready for any ground-combat scenario. What this means, Army leaders explained, is that the current and future combat environment on the globe is both increasingly urban and armed with Russian- and Chinese-made tanks and weapons. (National Interest, 11.18.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • "The big loser of the [U.S. presidential] election is Ukraine," tweeted Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow. In private, some Ukrainian politicians agreed. One lawmaker said the concern was a "primal fear of losing support in the face of Russian aggression." Pressed about President-elect Donald Trump's statement on Crimea, Oksana Syroyid, a deputy chair of Ukraine's parliament, said: "I resent that. I hope that since the campaign is over he'll reconsider." (Washington Post, 11.17.16)
  • Political scientist Ivan Krastev and law professor Stephen Holmes: “Without poring over State Department briefing books, Trump has an intuitive sense—justified, in our estimation—that Putin, rather than being a neo-Soviet imperialist, is a besieged leader whose bloody forays beyond Russia’s borders, however risky, have been basically defensive. What Trump offers Putin is not simply cooperation on a range of issues where the two countries’ interests overlap. What he offers, instead, is a shared narrative about what went wrong in the post-Cold War world.” (Foreign Policy, 11.21.16)
  • Historian and political analyst Robert Kagan: “Not only does he [Donald Trump] have a view about America’s role in the world, but it is one shared by many Americans. He may or may not cozy up to Vladimir Putin, have a trade war with China or even build his wall. But on the biggest question of all, from which everything else flows, the question of U.S. responsibility for global order, he clearly has little interest in continuing to shoulder that burden. He aims to put America First, which means we are closer to the end of the 70-year-old U.S. world order.” (Financial Times, 11.19.16)
  • Analyst and military consultant Edward Luttwak: “Disengagement from Afghanistan and Iraq—no more troops will go in and those there will soon return home—and a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine would release U.S. military resources for the containment of China.” (Foreign Policy, 11.17.16)

Other important news:

  • Two more suspected members of a Ukrainian "saboteur group" have been arrested in Russian-annexed Crimea, Russian law enforcement officials say. Suspects Oleksiy Stohnyy and Hlib Shablyy, both former officers of the Ukrainian armed forces, were arrested last week. (RFE/RL, 11.21.16)
  • Russia's Defense Ministry said Nov. 21 that Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) operatives had abducted two of its servicemen, who were later described by Kiev as deserters from the Ukrainian Army. In Kiev, the SBU confirmed that two servicemen had been detained on the border with Crimea, but it described them as former Ukrainian Army soldiers, who are now facing charges of treason for defecting to Russia. (New York Times, 11.21.16)
  • On Nov. 21 Ukraine marked the Day of Dignity and Freedom, a holiday commemorating the 2013 beginning of the Euromaidan protests that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych. (RFE/RL, 11.21.16)
  • A UN General Assembly committee has passed a Ukraine-sponsored resolution condemning the human rights situation in Crimea. The resolution was supported by 73 states, including the U.S., UK, Canada and many EU countries. Another 23 states voted against it, including Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Venezuela, China and India, while 76 countries abstained. (TASS, 11.16.16)
  • The United States joined Ukraine in voting against a United Nations resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism, citing freedom of speech concerns and saying Russia sponsored the measure as a political attack against Ukraine. The resolution was approved by the UN's human rights committee on Nov. 17 by 131 to 3. Joining the United States and Ukraine in voting "no" was Palau, where a far-right, vehemently anti-Russian party recently was formed with a symbol resembling a Nazi Wolfsangel. (RFE/RL, 11.18.16)
  • U.S. President Barack Obama had a brief conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 20 on the sidelines of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, their first discussion since the U.S. election. Obama said he urged Putin to instruct his aides to work with the U.S. and Europe to finally resolve the issue of Ukraine. He said he told Putin the goal is "to see if we can get that done before my term is up.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders "expressed regret that it was not possible to make progress in Ukraine.” (Wall Street Journal, 11.20.16, New York Times, 11.21.16, Bloomberg, 11.20.16)
  • Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said he and President-elect Donald Trump share an interest in normalizing relations between the U.S. and Russia. At a press conference following an economic summit in Peru, Putin said that Trump “reaffirmed his intent to normalize relations with Russia” in their recent phone call, “and I naturally said the same.” (AP, 11.20.16)
  • Ukraine wants EU leaders to urge Donald Trump to keep U.S. sanctions against Russia as pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko prepares to discuss more international support for his country. Poroshenko visits Brussels on Nov. 24 for talks on a €600m aid package and a European visa-waiver scheme for Ukrainians, as well as an EU trade and security deal with Kiev that is threatened by opposition in the Netherlands. (Financial Times, 11.20.16)
  • The chairman of the Russian senate’s Defense and Security Committee has announced the deployment of surface-to-air S-400 missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems to Kaliningrad, in retaliation for what he says is a NATO military build-up on Russia's western borders. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has been doing everything possible to safeguard its borders in light of NATO’s actions. (Kommersant, 11.22.16, TASS, 11.22.16)
  • Before Donald Trump takes the oath of office, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham will lead a congressional delegation to Ukraine, Georgia and Estonia to reassure these European partners that Washington is still committed to confronting Russian aggression. In addition, Graham has said he wants to use his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee to steer new funds to European allies for battling Moscow. There's also new legislation in the House to increase sanctions on Russia. (Washington Post, 11.20.16)
  • European governments are launching a concerted appeal to persuade President-elect Donald Trump to not abandon NATO’s tough stance toward Russia. (Foreign Policy, 11.16.16)
  • Though the Baltic countries would be vastly outmatched if the Kremlin invaded using its conventional forces, they say they have the will to mount a fierce insurgency. Latvia is expanding its part-time volunteer force, the National Guard, to 8,000 people and in the wake of Trump's election hopes to push the numbers higher. Estonia has enrolled more than 25,000 volunteers in its similar Defense League. Lithuania has published guides about what to do in case of Russian invasion. (Washington Post, 11.18.16)
  • Finland's undersecretary of state, Jori Arvonen, told reporters Nov. 21 that a joint NATO-European Union center is planned for Helsinki to study "hybrid" warfare, including cyber-espionage and propaganda via social media. (Washington Post, 11.21.16)
  • “Regardless of who held the reins of power, nothing changed for the ordinary citizen. The population was systematically robbed, the citizens were fleeced, the Ukrainian people were plundered,” Vladimir Putin said in his interview for the Oliver Stone-produced film “Ukraine on Fire,” which aired on Russian television Nov. 21. (TASS, 11.21.16)
  • Production of Ukraine’s seven biggest crops will jump to a record 85.8 million metric tons in the 2016-2017 season, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grain exports are forecast by Kiev-based UkrAgroConsult to rise 6% to a record 40.7 million tons. (Bloomberg, 11.18.16)