Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 22-29, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No matter which of its last three presidents has been in charge, Ukraine’s ease-of-doing-business rating over the past decade has consistently been among the three or four worst in the former Soviet Union. (World Bank/Russia Matters, 11.28.16)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Bulgaria depends on Russian imports for three-quarters of its primary energy resources—coal, gas, nuclear fuel and oil. (Financial Times, 11.29.16)
  • In France, presidential candidate Francois Fillon clinched the center-right Republicans’ presidential nomination on Nov. 27, promising a major departure from incumbent French President Francois Hollande’s handling of Russia. During the final debate before the second-round primary, Fillon said that "Russia is a dangerous country if we treat it as we have treated it for the last five years." (Bloomberg, 11.28.16, AP, 11.27.16, RFE/RL,11.25.16)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • President of the European Council Donald Tusk said Nov. 23 after meeting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that he believed the EU would decide ahead of next month's meeting of EU leaders to roll over broad economic sanctions on Russia. The current measures expire in late January 2017. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told Reuters ahead of Nov. 29 talks on Ukraine that he had called for Europe to stand firm on sanctions against Russia. (Wall Street Journal, 11.24.16, Reuters, 11.29.16)

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:

  • Finland’s defense minister, Jussi Niinisto, said he doesn’t see the recent deployment of Russian missiles in the Baltic Sea region as a direct threat, but warned that a negative spiral of actions and counteractions could cause “something to happen, even if only accidentally.” (AP, 11.23.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • Retired Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis, a hard-liner on Iran and a revered figure in the U.S. Marine Corps, would make an excellent choice for defense secretary, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said Nov. 20. Mattis has expressed deep wariness regarding Russian intentions, saying that Moscow wants “to break NATO apart.” He has also supported the idea of arming Ukraine. "It's going to be a tragedy so long as Russia decides to continue what they're doing, and we're just asking ourselves are we willing to support the Ukrainian people who want to defend themselves? And on that one, I'm pretty one-way about it. Of course, we support them,” Mattis said at a Senate hearing in January 2015. On Syria, Mattis said both that he deplored the "reactive crouch" the U.S. military has been forced to take and that he didn't know what "our policy is on Syria." "We know that vacuums left in the Middle East seem to be filled by either terrorists or by Iran or their surrogates or Russia," he said in April 2016. (, 11.20.16, Politico, 11.20.16, Military Times, 04.22.16, New York Post, 07.08.15,, 01.27.15)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • From “Advice to President Trump on U.S.-Russia Policy,” a multi-part symposium commissioned by The National Interest and Carnegie Corporation of New York:
    • Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs: “First and foremost, the next U.S. President must do everything possible to prevent an accidental U.S.-Russian war, now the likeliest it’s been since the end of the Cold War. Overturning President [Barack] Obama’s ban on communication at every level from President-to-President to Secretaries of Defense and regional commanders; de-conflicting in Syria, multilateralization of U.S-Russian agreements on preventing military incidents and similar confidence-building measures in the military-to-military domain—all should help reduce the risk.” (The National Interest, 11.28.16)
    • Executive director of the Center for the National Interest, Paul J. Saunders: “As an immediate objective, the Trump administration would do well to broaden U.S.-Russian military-to-military contacts both to avoid inadvertent conflict in Syria and to agree on limits to provocative conduct along European-Russian frontiers.” (The National Interest, 11.28.16)
    • Steven Pifer, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump “should early on establish clear policy lines toward Russia, including reaffirmation of NATO’s decision to modestly boost its military presence in the Baltic states and Poland,… support for Ukraine and the German-led effort to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine and … readiness to cooperate on areas where U.S. and Russian interests converge. (The National Interest, 11.28.16)
  • Wall Street Journal editorial: “Mr. Trump has indicated he wants a reset of his own with the Kremlin. That's a respectable goal, provided the President-elect pursues it not through Mr. Obama's habit of pre-emptive concessions, but with the tried-and-true formula of peace through strength. Completing the deployment of the SM-3s in Poland would send Mr. Putin the right message.” (Wall Street Journal, 11.22.16)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said at a press conference that he doesn't believe the administration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will change Washington's backing for Ukraine, saying that Trump had raised the topics of Russian "aggression" against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea during a recent telephone conversation. Speaking alongside Poroshenko, European Council President Donald Tusk said that during a telephone conversation with Trump on Nov. 25, the president-elect's comments about Ukraine were "at least promising compared with some announcements during the campaign." (Wall Street Journal, 11.24.16)
  • The Trump Foundation has reported a $150,000 gift from the foundation of Viktor Pinchuk, a powerful Ukrainian steel magnate. A spokesman for Pinchuk's foundation said the gift was made as part of an agreement for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to speak at a conference Pinchuk organized in September 2015 called "How New Ukraine's Fate Affects Europe and the World.” In that 20-minute speech and Q&A, Trump, who was already a presidential candidate at the time, said: “The United States has been supportive [of Ukraine], but more verbally than anything else. Our president is not strong and he is not doing what he should be doing for Ukraine.” Pinchuk had also pledged large donations to the foundation of Trump's opponent, former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (The Washington Post, 11.22.16, Belfer Center, 11.23.16)
  • During discussions on Nov. 22, the EU promised progress on a series of initiatives that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been pushing for months. The two sides signed an updated energy pact stating that Ukraine should remain a key transit country for the delivery of Russian gas to Europe. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that once Ukraine completes a legislative change to allow the export of lumber products, the EU is ready to disburse another loan—worth €600 million ($636 million)—to Kiev. Juncker also said he expects the EU to approve one of the key requests of Poroshenko's government by the end of the year—visa-free entry for Ukrainian tourists to EU countries. (Wall Street Journal, 11.24.16)
  • The ministerial meeting of the "Normandy Four" to discuss the situation in Ukraine yielded no breakthrough solutions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Nov. 29 after talks with his counterparts from Germany, France and Ukraine in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are now holding a bilateral meeting, the Russian foreign ministry said. (TASS, 11.29.16)
  • Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych denied ordering police to fire on protesters during the violent demonstrations that rocked the country nearly three years ago and forced him to flee the country. The statements—made on Nov. 28 via video link from Russia—mark the first testimony given by the 66-year-old to a Ukrainian court over the February 2014 violence that killed dozens. (RFE/RL, 11.29.16)
  • Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Igor Dolohov told journalists in Kiev on Nov. 29 that Russia has 23,000 troops in Crimea, including approximately 9,000 troops along the administrative line between Crimea and mainland Ukraine. In addition, he said, Russia has some 55,000 troops stationed very near the Russia/Ukraine border. Moscow has repeatedly denied having a military presence in Ukraine, other than in Crimea. (RFE/RL, 11.29.16)
  • On Nov. 25, the Russian Defense Ministry presented the Ukrainian military attaché with a note of protest in reaction to Ukraine’s plans to conduct missile launch training over Crimea. (AP, 11.25.16)
  • Russia’s domestic security agency says it has arrested a retired navy officer in Crimea on charges of spying for Ukraine. The Federal Security Service said Nov. 24 that Leonid Parkhomenko was gathering information on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet for Ukrainian military intelligence. Ukrainian officials dismissed the claim as a provocation. (AP, 11.24.16)
  • A court in Moscow has prolonged the pretrial detention of Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, who has been held in Russia on suspicion of espionage. (RFE/RL, 11.28.16)
  • Prosecutors in Russia have launched a criminal case against Ukrainian security agencies for alleged war crimes committed in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. (RFE/RL, 11.28.16)
  • A diverse crowd of about 1,000 people turned out in central Kiev for a rally in support of a new political movement headed by Mikheil Saakashvili, the reformist former Georgian president who has launched a second political career in Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 11.28.16)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called for the Holodomor, the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s, to be recognized as "genocide." (RFE/RL, 11.26.16)
  • A new Russian railway route bypassing Ukraine and linking the Rostov and Voronezh regions is due to open on Aug. 15, 2017—more than a year ahead of schedule, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Dmitry Bulgakov told reporters on Nov. 26. (TASS, 11.26.16)
  • A Ukrainian corruption watchdog that initially condemned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for not declaring ownership of a Spanish seaside villa has changed its position, raising questions about the state agency's independence from the presidential administration. (RFE/RL, 11.28.16)
  • The massive containment shield that will prevent further radiation leaks from Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been moved into its final position. (RFE/RL, 11.29.16)
  • Ukraine's former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has described himself and President Petro Poroshenko as "frenemies," referring to a love-hate relationship with the man who fired him but has since made him a sort of traveling ambassador to the West. The two face uncertainty not only in the wake of Donald Trump's election in the U.S., but also as former Yatsenyuk ally Yulia Tymoshenko attempts a comeback on the wings of popular dissatisfaction with the current government. (Wall Street Journal, 11.29.16)