Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Nov. 8-15, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • The Kremlin is hoping to revive ties with Bulgaria and Moldova after both countries saw pro-Russia presidential candidates elected, the Interfax news agency reported Nov. 14. Bulgarian Rumen Radev and Moldovan Igor Dodon  won elections in their respective countries Nov. 13. Both pledged to restore better ties with Moscow during their campaigns. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has announced he will resign after Moscow-friendly Socialist Party candidate Radev's victory. (RFE/RL, 11.14.16, The Moscow Times, 11.14.16)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has recognized the annexation of the Crimean peninsula as a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and as a Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory. (The Moscow Times, 11.15.16)
  • The U.S. has placed six Russian State Duma deputies from Crimea under international sanctions, the U.S. Treasury has confirmed. Dmitry Belik, Andrey Kozenko, Konstantin Bakharev, Svetlana Savchenko, Ruslan Balbek and Pavel Shperov represent the peninsula in Russia's lower house of parliament. Earlier in November, the EU had added the six to its sanctions list for supporting Russia's annexation of Crimea. (Deutsche Welle, 11.09.16, The Moscow Times, 11.15.16)
  • Stanford professor Michael McFaul, who served as the United States’ high-profile ambassador to Russia from 2012 until 2014, has reportedly been added to the Kremlin’s sanctions list. (The Moscow Times, 11.11.16)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • No significant developments.

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

  • Potential global conflict is the Russian public's greatest fear, a report by state-run pollster the Russian Public Opinion Research Center has announced. With 25 out of 100 possible points, global tensions, conflict and war took the top slot as Russians' main worry, up from 11 points in October 2015. (The Moscow Times, 11.14.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • The U.S.'s European allies are insisting that the West must not compromise on its principles or weaken its support for Ukraine, in response to a call this week between U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Nov. 15, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Trump's desire for dialogue was "completely understandable," but she issued a pointed reminder that "it's also important not to forget our principles," noting Russia's annexation of Crimea and what she called its hybrid war in Ukraine. (Wall Street Journal, 11.15.16)
  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said that Russia has been mostly aggressive in Europeas it was in Ukraine and Georgiaand that the U.S. needs to “stand strong against the possibility of Russian aggression in Europe.” (CBS, 11.11.16)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance wouldn't accept the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. "There is no contradiction between strong defense and political dialogue," Stoltenberg said. "We think it is important to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of all nations, including Ukraine." (Wall Street Journal, 11.15.16)
  • Jeffrey Burt, James Hitch, Peter Pettibone and Thomas Shillinglawfour lawyers with longtime Russia experiencesuggest that Russia and the West “agree to disagree” on the status of Crimea for the indefinite future. The parties must agree to maintain the status quo of Donbas as part of Ukraine, with an effectively enforced cease-fire, and the United States, Europe, Russia and Ukraine should jointly evaluate and create a total aid package to achieve economic recovery in Ukraine. (The National Interest, 11.14.16)


  • Alexei Pushkov, a senator and former head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s State Duma, predicted that Ukraine and its pro-Western president, Petro Poroshenko, could lose out from the result of the U.S. election. “Trump may turn away from Poroshenko,” Pushkov said on his Twitter account. (Bloomberg , 11.09.16)
  • Asked before the Nov. 8 vote what a Donald Trump presidency would mean for his country, former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said he didn’t even want to consider the possibility. “He has said many, I’m sorry, stupid things,” said Ohryzko. “It would be a very critical time not only for American foreign policy, but also for NATO.” (Bloomberg , 11.09.16)
  • Columnist Gideon Rachman writes: “Mr. Trump’s America will clearly try to strike a deal with Mr. Putin’s Russia. But what would that deal look like? … The U.S. will end its opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. … The Americans will also drop any suggestion that Ukraine or Georgia will join NATO. The build-up of NATO troops in the Baltic States will also be slowed or stopped. … In return for these large concessions, Russia will be expected to wind down its aggression in eastern Ukraine and not attempt to make further territorial gains there.” (Financial Times, 11.14.16)
  • CNA analysts Dmitry Gorenburg and Michael Kofman write: "Russia's core interests, keeping Ukraine and Georgia in its sphere of influence, and pursuing an integration agenda toward the Soviet Union's former republics is not antithetical to how Trump will define U.S. national interest.” (The Washington Post, 11.10.16)
  • Veteran defense analyst Ruslan Pukhov writes: “The Trump administration will have no incentive to make overtures to Moscow, such as taking a softer stance on Ukraine or easing the sanctions on Russia.” (New York Times, 11.11.16)
  • With President-elect Donald Trump taking office in January, American engagement in Ukraine looks set to wane. Although it isn’t clear if he will follow through on campaign proposals to recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea or lift sanctions, U.S. efforts to integrate Ukraine and its economy into the West would be collateral damage in any U.S.-Russian rapprochement. (Bloomberg, 11.15.16)

Other important news:

  • For the first time Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke directly to one another in a telephone call on Nov. 14, according to an official statement released by the Kremlin. Trump and Putin reportedly discussed the “highly unsatisfactory” state of U.S.-Russia relations, as well as the need to take steps to “normalize” ties and undertake “constructive cooperation on a wide range of issues,” including the fight against international terrorism and extremism. The two men reportedly discussed the armed conflict in Syria. The Kremlin said Trump and Putin both agreed to remain in regular telephone contact and to begin planning for a future meeting in person. The two are not due to meet before Trump assumes office on Jan. 20, 2017, the Kremlin said on Nov. 15. Trump’s office later said that Putin had called to "offer his congratulations" and that they had discussed shared threats and challenges, "strategic economic issues" and the long-term relationship between the two nations. Trump told Putin "that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia." (The Moscow Times, 11.15.16, Reuters, 11.15.16,  Wall Street Journal, 11.11.16, The Moscow Times, 11.14.16, The Washington Post, 11.14.16)
  • U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will have about six weeks to make a critical decision concerning the Ukraine-related sanctions after he takes office. Executive Order 13660, which declared a "national emergency" to deal with the Ukraine crisis and served as the foundation for the sanctions regime, expires in the first week of March. (RFE/RL, 11.13.16)
  • A fierce chorus of critics denounced President-elect Donald Trump on Nov. 14 for appointing Stephen Bannon, a nationalist media mogul, to a top White House position. John Bolton, a fierce foreign policy hawk who served as ambassador to the United Nations and as under secretary of state under President George W. Bush, is reportedly under consideration for the position of secretary of state. If named to Trump's cabinet, Bolton could clash with the president on Russia: He has accused the Obama administration of being weak in that area and recently wrote in favor of NATO membership for Ukraine, a move that would infuriate Moscow. Another contender for the post seems to be former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. (New York Times, 11.14.16, 11.15.16)
  • EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says the European Union will not change its policy toward Russia even if the United States were to alter its position under the administration of incoming president Donald Trump. Mogherini made her comments after a special EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Nov. 13 to discuss the results of the U.S. presidential election. European sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine are set to be renewed next month as diplomats question whether Trump’s election will result in pressure within the EU to dilute the penalties after he takes office in January. (RFE/RL, 11.14.16, Financial Times, 11.10.16, Bloomberg, 11.14.16)
  • Kiev and some of its international supporters fear U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will seek a “grand bargain” with Russian President Vladimir Putin to improve U.S.-Russia relations, sacrificing Ukraine in the process. That could involve ceding a “sphere of influence” to Moscow, as the Russian president has implicitly demanded. (Financial Times, 11.11.16)
  • Germany's popular foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is set to become the country's next president despite Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition parties' initial opposition to the appointment. Steinmeier has signaled willingness to re-engage with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Wall Street Journal, 11.14.16)
  • The U.S., in an attempt to reassure its allies in Europe, last month sent its largest shipment of ammunition to the continent in more than two decades, the Army announced. More than 620 containers were shipped by train from a port in Nordenham, Germany, to Miesau Army Depot, which reportedly serves as the U.S. Army’s largest ammunition storage area outside the U.S. (Fox News , 11.09.16)
  • Poland says it will build a new territorial defense force of 53,000 volunteers by 2019 in order to guard against threats from Russia. (RFE/RL, 11.14.16)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone Nov. 15. Poroshenko once again congratulated Trump and stressed the need for Washington’s resolute support of Ukraine in countering  "Russian aggression and implementing crucial reforms." Earlier Poroshenko had relayed an invitation to Trump to visit Ukraine through U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, according to his office. (Ukraine's presidential press service, 11.15.16, Agence France Presse, 11.10.16)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, his onetime business partner and the deputy head of his party Ihor Kononenko and Oleh Hladkovskyy, a deputy secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, each reportedly own a lavish Mediterranean-style villa on or near the Spanish coast. These properties have previously been kept secret and were not listed in the officials' recently filed, publicly searchable asset declarations. (RFE/RL, 11.14.16)
  • Former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili said on Nov. 11 that he would found a political party in Ukraine, after he accused the country's elite of rampant corruption and quit his post as a regional governor. (Wall Street Journal, 11.11.16)
  • Ukraine’s police chief Khatiya Dekanoidze, who was driving reforms through the country’s notoriously corrupt police force, has resigned after a year in the job, complaining of government pressure. (AP, 11.14.16)
  • Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claims to have detained a group of Ukrainian "saboteur-terrorists" in Sevastopol on the contested Crimean peninsula. (The Moscow Times , 11.10.16)
  • Ilya Bogdanov, a former Russian Federal Security Service officer who defected to Ukraine, has disappeared in Kiev, according to a statement on the website of Ukraine's National Police. (The Moscow Times, 11.14.16)
  • Fitch Ratings upgraded Ukraine's debt rating from CCC to B- on Nov. 11, citing easing financial pressures following Kiev's receipt of loans from the International Monetary Fund. (RFE/RL, 11.12.16)
  • The process of sliding an arched structure into place to shield the damaged unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant started on Nov. 14, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has said. (World Nuclear News, 11.14.16)
  • Ukraine's Foreign Ministry together with the U.S. State Department and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority organized and conducted an exercise in Kiev on Nov. 7-8 simulating the response to smuggled nuclear or other radioactive material. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Press Center , 11.10.16)