Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Oct. 17-24, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • In the first eight months of 2017, 40 percent of Ukraine’s exports went to the European Union versus 9.5 percent to Russia, Ukraine's deputy economic minister wrote on her Facebook page. (UkrInform, 10.20.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said Oct. 19 that Russia wants friendly relations with Ukraine, but closing Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine—i.e., restoring Ukraine’s control over its internationally recognized border—before Kiev gives Donbass special autonomous status and implements an amnesty would lead to a massacre on the scale of Srebrenica. He likewise suggested the E.U. had not fully considered the implications of its proposed Yanukovych-era free-trade agreement with Kiev, which would have allowed Ukraine to funnel European goods into Russia tariff-free. (Russia Matters, 10.19.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in action in Donbass Oct. 17-24, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. No separatist casualties have been reported. The self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic reported that one civilian was injured in shelling on the outskirts of Donetsk. (UNIAN, 10.24.17, 10.23.17, 10.22.17, 10.19.17, 10.18.17, TASS, 10.18.17)

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

  • NATO is poised to approve the creation of two new commands to improve allied logistics and protect supply lines, aiming to shore up weaknesses in any potential conflict with Russia, allied officials said. (Wall Street Journal, 10.24.17)
  • A Kazakh human rights watchdog says a pro-Russian activist who was sentenced less than two years ago to four years in prison on “hatred charges” has been released from prison for good behavior. Several Kazakh citizens have been sentenced since 2014 for inciting separatism and/or ethnic hatred through the Internet amid heightened government concern sparked by the crisis in eastern Ukraine. (RFE/RL, 10.23.17)

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:

  • No significant developments.

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • No significant developments.


  • Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky argues that the vested interests that have run Ukraine throughout its independence are winning as Russia and the West continue their tug-of-war. (Bloomberg, 10.24.17)
  • Serhiy Kudelia, a professor of political science at Baylor University, examines the ongoing practice of “physical integrity rights violations” committed by Ukrainian state agents and affiliated paramilitaries in government-controlled Donbass. The author writes that “persistent repressive practices against local civilians undermine the credibility of the state in that region, create additional barriers for settling the conflict and may foreshadow the broadening of the range of targets to include regime opponents.” Kudelia identifies three main implications in the near-term: (1) The SBU security service may have gotten “additional discretionary powers and greater institutional autonomy” after Poroshenko put a long-time loyalist in charge of the service. (2) The outbreak of the armed conflict in Donbass was “partially the result of a deep legitimacy crisis of the post-Maidan Ukrainian government” and Kiev has failed to address that. (3) “The impunity of security services, transformation of paramilitaries into semi-private armies equipped with tanks and artillery and lack of external constraints on their actions represent a major obstacle” to settling the conflict. (PONARS Eurasia, October 2017)
  • Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, observes that attitudes in Ukraine toward Russia since the start of the conflict in Donbass “have hardened to a consider­able degree, and the appeal of Western institutions such as the European Union and NATO has grown.” This represents a marked shift from the period before 2014, when, following the Soviet Union’s collapse, “Ukraine and Russia maintained relations that at times were testy, but their differences largely appeared manageable.” The author attributes the change in Ukrainian attitudes to the Kremlin’s use of military force to seize Crimea and its subsequent support for armed separatism in eastern Ukraine. (Brookings Institution, 10.18.17)
  • Anne Applebaum, author of several books about the communist legacy in the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, describes the historical roots of Russia’s anxiety over political turbulence in Ukraine. While “Putin’s Russia is not Stalin’s Soviet Union,” nevertheless, “the relationship between Russia and Ukraine has come full circle,” she writes. (The Washington Post, 10.20.17)

Other important news:

  • Cyberattacks using malware called “BadRabbit” hit Ukraine and Russia Oct. 24, causing flight delays at Ukraine’s Odessa airport and affecting several media outlets in Russia, including the Interfax news agency. The metro system in Kiev also reported a hack on its payment system. (Reuters, 10.24.17)
  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed on Oct. 20 to push for legislation creating an anticorruption court by the end of the year, in an apparent response to demands from Western allies as well as protesters camped outside parliament in Kiev. The move comes amid the first sustained wave of opposition protests in Kiev since Poroshenko’s predecessor was ousted. (RFE/RL, 10.21.17)
    • Ukrainian anticorruption investigators have raided the home and office of the mayor of the Black Sea port of Odessa, who is at the center of an embezzlement probe. (RFE/RL, 10.23.17)
  • Oleg Deripaska, the Russian metals tycoon, will seek to raise $1.5 billion for his aluminum and hydropower empire in the first Russian initial public offering in London since the Ukraine crisis, a key test of Western investor sentiment. (Financial Times, 10.23.17)
  • Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian socialite and TV personality who recently announced that she will be running for president, called Ukraine "Russia’s most important partner" on Oct. 24 and said that restoring relations with Kiev is "the most important task that lies before Russia." Sobchak told journalists that "from the point of view of international law, Crimea is Ukrainian—full stop," adding that Russia had "broken its word" by violating the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity. (RFE/RL, 10.24.17)