Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 28-Dec. 5, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • The threat of new U.S. sanctions has spread anxiety among Russia’s wealthiest that their association with Russian President Vladimir Putin could land them on a U.S. government blacklist. The list, to be drawn up by the U.S. Treasury Department, is set to name the most significant Russian oligarchs “as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth” and is meant to be sent to Congress by the end of January. The Kremlin has accused the U.S. of trying to set the Russian business elite against Putin before the 2018 presidential election. (Reuters, 11.30.17, RFE/RL, 11.30.17)
  • The U.S. Treasury Department on Nov. 28 further tightened its restrictions on certain short-term Russian state-owned corporate debt, in line with a law signed by U.S. President Donald Trump. (Wall Street Journal, 11.29.17)
  • Denmark passed a law Nov. 30 that could allow it to ban Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from going through its waters on grounds of security or foreign policy. (Reuters, 11.30.17)
  • U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John McCarrick said Nov. 29 that U.S. officials "don't see the possibility that Nord Stream 2 can be built." (RFE/RL, 11.29.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Max Bergmann and Carolyn Kenney, a senior fellow and a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, write: “As detailed extensively in CAP report ‘Russia’s 5th Column,’ Russia has been providing support to far-right parties across Europe. Such support has come in various forms, ranging from ‘elevating the profile of European far-right leaders to disinformation, propaganda, alleged illicit financing and covert influence operations.’ In exchange, these parties have provided Russia with international support and have undertaken actions favorable to Russia’s objectives, such as supporting the lifting of sanctions against Russia and blaming the European Union and NATO for the crisis in Ukraine.” (Center for American Progress, 12.05.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • More than 2,500 civilians have been killed and 9,000 others injured since the beginning of the conflict in Donbass, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Ukraine 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan. (Interfax, 12.04.17)
  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 14 were wounded in action in eastern Ukraine in the week of Nov. 28-Dec. 5, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. No separatist casualties were reported. (UNIAN, 12.05.17, 12.04.17, 12.03.17, 12.02.17, 12.01.17, 11.29.17)
  • The newspaper Vedomosti has learned that in 2015, the Russian army lost 626 soldiers, after losing 790 a year earlier. Russia lost another 596 and 630 soldiers in 2013 and 2012, respectively. These deaths were reported in a state procurement order for 2018-2019 insurance on Russian soldiers, according to Vedomosti. The military doesn’t say how these thousands of servicemen died. (Meduza, 12.04.17)
  • The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has confirmed over 400 civilian casualties in the conflict zone in Donbass since the beginning of 2017. (Interfax, 12.04.17)
  • In 2014 alone, the combination of low oil prices and international sanctions caused Russia’s 20 richest individuals to lose a total of $62 billion dollars, according to David Szakonyi, an assistant professor of political science. (Russia Matters, 11.29.17)

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

  • The Pentagon is preparing to spend millions of dollars to fix up a Cold War-era air base in Keflavik, Iceland as Washington rushes to keep an eye on a new generation of stealthy Russian submarines slipping into the North Atlantic. (Foreign Policy, 12.04.17)
  • NATO should defend Sweden and Finland in the event of an armed aggression, although neither country is an alliance member, Commodore Hans Helseth, special adviser to the NATO Joint Warfare Center in Norway, said at an event that underscored growing concerns about Russia’s military buildup. (Reuters, 11.29.17)
  • Germany is best suited to host a new NATO military logistics command, according to Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the top U.S. Army general in Europe. (Reuters, 11.28.17)
  • Germans see U.S. President Donald Trump as a bigger challenge for German foreign policy than authoritarian leaders in North Korea, Russia or Turkey, according to a survey by the Koerber Foundation. Twenty-six percent of respondents were most worried about Germany’s ability to cope with inflows of refugees, while relations with Trump and the United States ranked second, with 19 percent describing them as a major challenge, followed by Turkey at 17 percent, North Korea at 10 percent and Russia at 8 percent. (Reuters, 12.05.17)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Ukraine will hold referendums in the near future on whether to seek NATO and EU memberships, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said. Forty-three percent of Ukrainians back joining NATO, according to a recent survey, more than double the 2013 figure of 20 percent. (RFE/RL, 12.01.17)

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

  • A Russian Su-30 fighter reportedly flew as close as 50 feet in front of a U.S. P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft over the Black Sea on Nov. 25, causing “violent turbulence.” The U.S. military characterized the 24-minute interaction as unsafe. The Russian air force said the Su-30 was scrambled to force the P-8A to change course as it was approaching the Russian border. (The Moscow Times, 11.29.17)
  • General Denis Mercier, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, told Reuters a new NATO report showed a higher risk of major interstate war than the 2013 report. (Reuters, 11.28.17)
  • Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes: “The past several years have seen a dramatic increase in the number and kinds of encounters between U.S. and Russian military aircraft and warships. These encounters raise the risk of accident or miscalculation. As a second matter of priority, it would serve the interests of both countries to reduce such risks (this implies that ‘leaving it to chance’ is not a calculate Kremlin policy).” (Valdai Discussion Club/Brookings Institution, 11.17.17)
  • Lee Litzenberger, former U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO, writes: “Russia has consistently under-reported the numbers of troops involved in its exercises to avoid outside observation, and has conducted large no-notice ‘snap’ exercises to test Western responses to unexpected troop activity. This behavior, coupled with Russia’s actions against Ukraine in 2014 and Georgia in 2008, contributes to the perception that Russia is prepared to use military force again against its neighbors.” (War on the Rocks, 11.28.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • “The European Deterrence Initiative, or EDI … includes $150 million to help Ukraine build its capacity for defending its territorial integrity. … Any resolution of the war that does not entail a fully independent, sovereign and territorially whole Ukraine is unacceptable … Minsk-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia reverses the actions that triggered them … Russia chose to violate the sovereignty of the largest country in Europe,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. (U.S. State Department, 11.28.17)
  • Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, writes: “Opening up America’s stockpile to Ukraine is not in Washington’s national security interest. In fact, it is bound to make a conflict that is mostly frozen into a more deadly one and it complicates any reasonable chance of a diplomatic resolution. … U.S. security interests in Europe are not wedded to whether Kiev succeeds in establishing a more democratic and accountable form of government. At best, Ukraine is a peripheral country that the United States doesn’t have a treaty obligation to defend if its territory is invaded.” (Reuters, 11.28.17)
  • Leonid Bershidsky, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “There is a greater chance than ever that the U.S. will supply Ukraine with lethal weapons.” (Bloomberg, 12.05.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Leonid Bershidsky, a columnist and veteran Russia watcher, writes: “Petro Poroshenko would have gotten nowhere—and wouldn't be defending Ukraine's opaque, corrupt, backward political system today—without Western support. No amount of friendly pressure is going to change him. If Ukrainians shake up their apathy to do to him what they did to Yanukovych—or when he comes up for reelection in 2019—this mistake shouldn't be repeated. It's not easy to find younger, more principled, genuinely European-oriented politicians in Ukraine, but they exist. Otherwise, Western politicians and analysts will have to keep acting shocked that another representative of the old elite is suddenly looking a lot like Yanukovych.” (Bloomberg, 12.05.17)
  • "President Poroshenko appears to have abandoned the fight against corruption, any ambition for economic growth, EU or IMF funding," economist Anders Aslund, who has long been optimistic about Ukrainian reforms, tweeted recently. (Bloomberg, 12.05.17)
  • Tetyana Malyarenko, professor of international security at the Ukraine's National University Odessa Law Academy, writes: “A rapid and effective coup d’état in the self-declared LPR was unexpected even for its main stakeholders, first and foremost the Kremlin. The events confirm the vulnerability of proxy war technologies in contemporary conflicts and foreign policy. Neither funding, nor supplying arms, nor providing military advisers can guarantee the Kremlin full control over the self-proclaimed regimes in eastern Donbass.” (Kennan Institute’s Russia File, 12.04.17)
  • Kiev-based journalist Maxim Vikhrov writes: “Power in the [Luhansk] ‘republic’ was transferred to the siloviki, with MGB head Leonid Pasechnik becoming the acting LPR leader. But don’t expect meaningful changes in Luhansk. The ‘republic’ will remain under Moscow’s general administration, awaiting denouement in the Donbass.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 11.29.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Vienna on Dec. 7, with Syria and Ukraine to be on the agenda. Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Brussels, Vienna and Paris Dec. 4-8 for NATO, European Union and OSCE meetings. (RFE/RL, 12.02.17)
  • "When everything is agreed, we will make an announcement," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said regarding a statement made by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman that Russian Presidential Aide Vladislav Surkov and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker will meet next week. (TASS, 12.05.17)
  • Parameters of a United Nations mission to Donbass cannot be agreed because of the gap in Russian and Western approaches, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said. (TASS, 12.05.17)
  • Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada would back a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, but only if it could have access to border areas with Russia. (AP, 12.05.17)
  • Negotiators say an agreement has been reached for the release by year’s end of 470 people held prisoner, three-quarters of whom are held by Ukraine, in the war between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists. "Hopefully, we will be able to organize prisoner exchange before the [New Year and Christmas] holidays," Russia’s chief negotiator at the Minsk peace talks, Boris Gryzlov, said. (TASS, 12.05.17, AP, 11.29.17)
  • U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement late on Dec. 4 that "recent events—including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and the seizure of sensitive NABU files—raise concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption." (RFE/RL, 12.05.17)
  • Opposition politician Mikheil Saakashvili, who has escaped from custody in Ukraine, has dismissed accusations against him as “fake.” Several hours after he was detained, Saakashvili was freed from police by his supporters and then called for the resignation of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at an impromptu rally in front of parliament in Kiev. Prosecutors are accusing Saakashvili of colluding with Ukrainian businessmen with ties to Russia to topple Poroshenko. Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuri Lutsenko has claimed that Saakashvili, leader of the New Forces Movement party, received $500,000 from the fugitive Serhiy Kurchenko for his activities in Ukraine. Earlier, thousands of Ukrainian opposition activists rallied in central Kiev, calling on parliament to adopt legislation on presidential impeachment. Police said the demonstration organized by the Movement of New Forces party attracted 2,500 people, but local reports said about 5,000 people participated. (RFE/RL, 12.03.17, RFE/RL, 12.05.17, AP, 12.05.17, Interfax, 12.05.17)
  • A Russian court on Nov. 28 refused to impound four German-made power turbines that ended up in Russia-annexed Crimea, dismissing a lawsuit filed by industrial giant Siemens to block what it contended was an illegal transfer. (RFE/RL, 11.29.17)
  • Ukraine increased gas production by 3.7 percent in January-October 2017 year-on-year, to 17.255 billion cubic meters. (Interfax, 12.04.17)