Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Oct. 10-17, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Eurostat data from the first seven months of 2017 shows that the decline in EU-Russia trade has not only stopped but has been reversed, with an expected increase of 20% by the end of the year compared to 2016. (EU Observer, 10.17.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Because Ukraine’s two separatist regions house the country’s major coal mines and Kiev isn’t trading with them, in hopes of choking off their economies, Ukraine has to import coal to produce electricity. (Ukraine received its first major shipment of American anthracite last month—part of a $79 million deal with a U.S. coal company.) Meanwhile, it seems that some European countries—including Ukraine’s staunch supporter Poland—are buying coal from the separatist republics, while Ukraine is buying it back at a mark-up, along with Russian gas—also through intermediary countries at a premium. (Observer, 10.17.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 12 were wounded in action in Donbass in the week of Oct. 10-17, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. No separatist casualties have been reported. (UNIAN, 10.17.17, 10.16.17, 10.15.17, 10.14.17, 10.13.17, 10.12.17, 10.11.17)
  • The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission for Ukraine reports that 398 civilians have been killed or injured in hostilities in Donbass since the beginning of 2017, a 16 percent increase over the same period in 2016. (Interfax, 10.11.17)
  • Ukraine has filed a World Trade Organization complaint challenging Russian trade restrictions on beer, vodka, juice, wallpaper and a product close to President Petro Poroshenko's heart: confectionery. Ukraine’s Economy Ministry said this was its third trade dispute against Russia in as many years. (Reuters, 10.16.17)
  • Hungary says it will “block and boycott” all attempts to draw Ukraine more deeply into the European Union unless Kiev changes a new education law that rolls back options for schools to teach lessons in languages other than Ukrainian. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians and many Hungarian schools. The education ministers of Ukraine and Poland also plan to meet and discuss the provisions of the new law. Ukraine has pledged not to close Romanian-language schools under the legislation, which has caused alarm in Russia as well. (AP, 10.16.17, Interfax-Ukraine, 10.16.17, New York Times, 10.13.17)

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

  • No significant developments.

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:

  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Oct. 12 that the U.S. military presence in the Baltic states contradicts the Russia-NATO agreement, RIA news agency reported. The head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, said Moscow could deploy more state-of-the-art Iskander missiles in its westernmost region in response to the U.S. military buildup in Poland. (AP, 10.12.17, Reuters, 10.12.17, Newsweek, 10.12.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • Two New York-based scholars, Rajan Menon and William Ruger, argue convincingly that providing lethal military aid to Ukraine is misguided at best and could prove dangerous for Ukraine and the U.S. alike. They note, for example, that “arming Ukraine won’t make Putin cry uncle. Past experience—notably Moscow’s stepped-up intervention to save its Donbass clients in the battles for Ilovaisk and Novoazovsk in 2014 and 2015 and Debaltseve in 2015—suggests that Putin will continue to reinforce Russia’s proxies, especially if they suffer setbacks at the hands of better-armed Ukrainian troops.” (Foreign Affairs, 10.11.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt writes that a peacekeeping operation in Ukraine’s Donbass should first and foremost establish “free and fair local elections in the region.” He argues that entrusting this to “the existing separatist governance structures” is impossible and the “only realistic possibility” of implementing the Minsk agreement’s basic tenets is to begin with an international peacekeeping mission. The author also writes that, contrary to widespread claims, the Ukraine conflict has demonstrated the failure of Russian “hybrid warfare” rather than its success, as Moscow relied on the “deployment of regular formations of the Russian army in regular battles” when its allies on the ground were suffering significant setbacks. (European Council on Foreign Relations, 10.12.17)
  • Two young scholars, Anna Tikhonova and Cyril Fokin, argue that the West should accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imperfect peacekeeping proposal for Ukraine not because it will resolve the conflict but because it will effectively call Putin’s bluff, while also providing useful new information from observation missions. (The National Interest, 10.09.17)


  • Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at Chatham House, argues that Moscow’s rationale behind its new peacekeeping proposal is twofold. First, the Kremlin wants to thwart the “de-occupation law” now going through the Ukrainian parliament, which would formally recognize Donbass as occupied territory and would thereby transfer responsibility for it onto Russia. Moscow’s second motive is basically to mirror the intention behind the Ukrainian law: to pass the “poison pill” of the separatist territories back to Ukraine and ensure that Kiev carries the political and the financial costs of reintegrating Donbass. (Newsweek, 10.17.17)
  • A scholar of international security, Anastasia Voronkova, examines the ambiguities and shortcomings of Putin’s proposal for sending U.N. peacekeepers to Ukraine. (International Institute for Strategic Studies, 10.10.17)
  • NATO’s former military commander James Stavridis believes Russia’s naval ambitions in the Black Sea go beyond the takeover of Crimea, arguing that NATO must keep Russia in check. (Bloomberg, 10.11.17)

Other important news:

  • Several thousand protesters gathered early Oct. 17 in front of Ukraine's parliament, amid a heavy police presence, at a rally organized by firebrand politician Mikheil Saakashvili and other opposition leaders. Protesters are calling for changes to Ukraine's election laws to encourage competition and for the establishment of an anti-corruption high court; some urged President Petro Poroshenko to step down and some demanded that Ukrainian lawmakers be stripped of their immunity from prosecution (see below). The demonstrators set up tents in front of the parliament building and are vowing to continue protesting until the demands are met. The mainly peaceful demonstration briefly turned violent, possibly because of the tents. A smaller rally took place outside the National Bank of Ukraine. Tensions had been running high after Ukraine's SBU security agency warned on Oct. 16 that "armed provocations" were planned for the protest. (RFE/RL, 10.17.17, AP, 10.17.17, Kyiv Post, 10.17.17, Interfax-Ukraine, 10.17.17)
  • President Petro Poroshenko on Oct. 17 submitted to parliament an urgent bill on amendments to Article 80 of the Constitution, abolishing immunity from prosecution for Ukrainian lawmakers. (Interfax-Ukraine, 10.17.17)
  • Dozens of people were detained Oct. 14 in Crimea for demonstrating in defense of Crimean Tatars. A lawyer following the situation said more than 100 people had staged one-person protests across Crimea earlier in the day and that at least 34 had been detained, even though one-person protests do not require advance permission from officials. The Russian authorities in Crimea reported that 49 people had been detained and released after "precautionary conversations." (RFE/RL, 10.14.17)
  • Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists marched through Kiev on Oct. 14 to mark the 75th anniversary of the creation of the controversial Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Organizers said as many as 20,000 people took part, which was supported by the right-wing Freedom, Right Sector and National Corp political parties. Some 5,000 police were on hand to keep order. Journalists reported seeing some marchers giving Nazi salutes. (RFE/RL, 10.14.17)
  • A statue dedicated to Russian “volunteer" fighters in eastern Ukraine has been unveiled in the Russian city of Rostov, less than 100 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, the local news website reported Oct. 16. The unveiling was attended was attended by Donetsk People’s Republic leader Alexander Zakharchenko and Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.17)
  • The official investigation into the downing of flight MH17 is “closing in” on identifying every accessory to the crash, including top officials and military commanders who made the decision to bring the Buk system to Ukraine, according to the Dutch prosecutor leading the probe; however, there is no “finalized list of suspects” yet. (Novaya Gazeta, 10.15.17)
  • Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen says Russia's proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine is "a Trojan horse" but that it would be worth trying to "reshape" the plan, since it presents the first opportunity in a long time to resolve the conflict. (RFE/RL, 10.11.17)
  • Ukraine has banned a new Russian banknote that includes images from the annexed Ukrainian region of Crimea. (RFE/RL, 10.14.17)
  • Ukrainian Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko said on Oct. 12 that he was open to amending law reforms amid concerns they aided corruption and could lead to the end of probes into the shooting of protesters in the run-up up to the 2014 revolution. (Reuters, 10.12.17)