Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 21-28, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • When the International Monetary Fund stepped in, Ukraine’s foreign currency reserves were down to just $5 billion—barely enough to cover a few weeks of imports. Now they are at $19 billion. (Financial Times, 11.24.17)
  • European Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who oversees EU integration, said it was “ridiculous” that 1.5 million Ukrainians signed up to a wealth declarations register last year, but only 100 people had been assessed to date. (Reuters, 11.24.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • Two months after U.S. liquefied natural gas from the lower 48 states hit the export market, Poland's state-owned oil and gas company PGNiG announced that it didn't intend to renew its long-term agreement with Gazprom, set to expire in 2022. (Wall Street Journal, 11.27.17)
  • Borrowing costs will rise by between 50 basis points and 150 basis points if the U.S. extends sanctions to bar its citizens from buying new Russian domestic government debt. (Bloomberg, 11.27.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has registered over 400 civilian casualties in Donbass this year. (Interfax, 11.24.17)
  • Seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed and nine were wounded in action in eastern Ukraine in the week of Nov. 21-Nov. 28, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. Four separatists were killed and five wounded during intensified fighting on Nov. 23.  (UNIAN, 11.28.17, 11.28.17, 11.26.17, 11.24.17, 11.23.17)
  • After subtracting inflation, food and utilities, the amount of money Russians have left to spend on themselves has shrunk for the fourth year running. Despite record low inflation rates touted by the country’s leadership, real disposable income fell 1.3 percent compared to October 2016. (The Moscow Times, 11.21.17)

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

  • No significant developments.

Red lines and tripwires:

  • In a Nov. 28 speech, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States would be the first to respond to any attack on a European ally under NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause. (RFE/RL, 11.28.17)

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

  • Ukrainian combat units have reportedly retaken the village of Hladosove in no-man’s land near the Russian-occupied city of Horlivka in the Donetsk region, some 590 kilometers southeast of Kiev. (Kyiv Post, 11.23.17)
  • The U.S. military says a Russian fighter flew within 50 feet of a U.S. Navy reconnaissance jet over the Black Sea with full afterburners on, causing violent turbulence that knocked the American plane into a 15-degree roll. (AP, 11.28.17)
  • A brigade set of Iskander-M tactical ballistic missile systems has been delivered to Russia’s 152nd Missile Brigade based at Chernyakhovsk in Kaliningrad. (TASS, 11.22.17, Russian Defense Policy Blog, 11.27.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • After months of internal debates, both the U.S. Pentagon and the State Department have reportedly recommended that U.S. President Donald Trump approve a $47 million package of arms, including Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has heavily lobbied for. But Trump himself has not yet signed off and many Russia watchers believe he remains reluctant to do so; with the Russian presidential election looming and the fate of the Ukraine talks with Kremlin adviser Vladislav Surkov still unclear, it’s possible the U.S. may not act on the recommendation anytime soon. “There isn’t any decision here,” U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker said. (Politico, 11.27.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Emma Ashford, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, writes: “ … sanctions have produced no concrete policy gains. The Kremlin retains its foothold in Crimea, and the war in eastern Ukraine grinds on. It’s possible that sanctions encouraged Russia not to seek further territorial gains in Ukraine, but the counterfactual nature of this claim is impossible to assess. At the same time, Russia has engaged in several substantial and aggressive ventures since 2014 … It’s hard not to conclude that U.S. sanctions have done little to improve Russian behavior in the three years they’ve been in place.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.22.17)
  • Kostiantyn Fedorenko, a member of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation’s political science department, writes: “Ukraine performed best in implementing reforms when it faced precise demands from the EU and the IMF. …without proper external incentives, reform processes in Ukraine have stalled. Moreover, in some cases, progressive reforms were later undermined. … Ukraine has to change much faster than it is. It is a poor country and has not yet returned even to its modest 2013 economic indicators. Disappointed citizens emigrate in numbers, ‘powering Poland’s economy’—and not only Poland’s. The only way to change this situation is to have the Ukrainian government pressed both by active citizens and by its international partners.” (Wilson Center, 11.21.17)
  • Josh Rogin, a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post, writes: “Most likely Putin [in Ukraine] is repeating his strategy in Syria, which was to engage in Kabuki diplomacy with the United States to buy time to consolidate battlefield gains he has no intention of giving up. Trump—and before him, President Barack Obama—went along with it, ensuring that the next phase of the conflict plays out on Russia’s terms.” (The Washington Post, 11.26.17) 
  • Mieczyslaw P. Boduszynski and Christopher K. Lamont, professors of international relations, write: “There is little reason to expect that the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk will be any different from that in Transnistria [in Moldova] five, 10 or 20 years from now. Why? The answer lies in a combination of Russian designs on its ‘near abroad,’ a lack of political will on the part of the EU to exert leverage in its borderlands and the political economy of frozen conflicts.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.27.17)

Other important news:

  • EU leaders offered Ukraine closer ties on Nov. 24 at a summit meant to cement Kiev’s ties with the West, but they declined to promise that Ukraine could one day join the bloc. In a summit statement also signed by Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, EU leaders agreed to “the European aspirations and European choice of the partners”—code for deeper integration without offering membership. (Reuters, 11.24.17)
  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said exports of Ukrainian goods to the European market have grown by 10 percent during the action period of the free trade area agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. (Interfax, 11.28.17)
  • On leaving the Eastern Partnership summit, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he expected a breakthrough soon on a stalled 600 million euro ($712 million) loan to the financial sector from the EU that is held up by Ukraine’s failure to meet conditions. (Reuters, 11.24.17)
  • The Council of Europe, the leading pro-democracy body in the region, is considering lifting sanctions it imposed over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine for fear Moscow could otherwise pull out of the body, dealing a blow to human rights protection. Ukrainian officials and politicians have reacted with alarm to these reports. (Financial Times, 11.26.17, RFE/RL, 11.27.17)
  • U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker, tasked with ending the fighting in Ukraine, says he sees no end to the war there, which pits government troops against Russian-backed separatists—and Russian troops. Volker said that he sees an “80 percent” chance that the war will grind on for at least another year, particularly after his Nov. 13 meeting with a top Kremlin adviser, Vladislav Surkov, which Volker called a “step back” in negotiations on deploying a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Donbass. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov has said he does not see the latest round of talks between Surkov and Volker as a step backwards. (Politico, 11.27.17, Foreign Policy, 11.28.17, TASS, 11.28.17)
  • The Kremlin says a leadership change for Russia-backed separatists in Luhansk will not affect the implementation of the Minsk peace agreements. Separatist leader Igor Plotnitsky's resignation was announced Nov. 24 in the midst of a fierce power struggle. Leonid Pasechnik, the self-proclaimed security minister of the separatist formation, would be acting leader "until the next elections." (RFE/RL, 11.27.17)
  • Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has said the Minsk process for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine has failed to produce results and needs to be accompanied by a parallel peace process based on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. (RFE/RL, 11.24.17)
  • There are over 35,000 armed militants in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. (Interfax, 11.28.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting in Brussels that Ukraine is interested in promoting further cooperation with the alliance. (Interfax, 11.27.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on Russia to recognize as genocide the famine that killed millions of people in Ukraine under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, "or at least repent for it." (RFE/RL, 11.25.17)
  • Officials in annexed Crimea are deciding whether to spend 100 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) to upgrade and expand the region's rail network as part of a bridge project connecting the peninsula to mainland Russia. (The Moscow Times, 11.27.17)
  • Police in Kiev detained more than 60 people at an alleged gathering of organized crime bosses in Kiev on Nov. 26. (RFE/RL, 11.27.17)