Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Oct. 24-31, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • Columnist and veteran Russia watcher Leonid Bershidsky writes: “… the Ukrainian political elite is strikingly unpopular. Poroshenko is still the most popular choice for president, but according to the latest poll by the Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Research, only 9.3% of Ukrainians would vote for him now. Just 9.6% would vote for Poroshenko's party, now the biggest in parliament.” (Bloomberg, 10.24.17)
  • Columnist and veteran Russia watcher Leonid Bershidsky writes: “According to the World Bank's October report on Ukraine, poverty is still higher than it was before the 2014 revolution.” (Bloomberg, 10.24.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • No significant developments.

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Russia and Ukraine are discussing via mediators out-of-court options to settle the dispute over Ukraine’s sovereign debt. (TASS, 10.30.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Combat casualties of the Ukrainian Armed Forces have reached 10,710 servicemen since April 2014. Of them, 2,333 servicemen have been killed, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said. (Interfax, 10.28.17)
  • Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded in action in Donbass Oct. 24-31, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters has reported. No separatist casualties have been reported. (UNIAN, 10.31.17, 10.30.17, 10.29.17, 10.28.17, 10.26.17, 10.25.17)
  • The U.S. State Department has provided Congress with a list of Russian companies and intelligence agencies that are likely to be affected by the latest round of sanctions. The list reportedly included three Russian intelligence agencies as well as 33 defense companies, including Kalashnikov, Sukhoi, Tupolev, Rostec and its weapons exporter Rosoboronexport. Although not yet public, the list is expected to be released more broadly in the coming days, giving businesses and nations a chance to wind down transactions with the off-limits individuals and entities. A three-month grace period will expire on Jan. 28. (AP, 10.27.17, RFE/RL, 10.27.17, The Washington Post, 10.26.17,  The Moscow Times, 10.27.17)
  • The Russian government extended the list of goods under sanctions, adding pigs and a range of byproducts. "Live pigs and certain kinds of edible byproducts and fats of agricultural animals are included into the list of agricultural products, raw materials and foods prohibited for import to Russia," the government said. The Kremlin earlier extended the embargo on certain agricultural products, raw materials and food originating from the United States, European Union countries, Canada, Australia, Norway, Ukraine, Albania, Montenegro, Iceland and Lichtenstein until Dec. 31, 2018. (Interfax, 10.27.17)
  • Vadim Grishin, a visiting fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at CSIS, writes: “According to the American Chamber of Commerce, 69% of U.S. companies working in the country consider the impact of U.S. sanctions against Russia on their business as negative. At the same time, 60% of companies do not expect big changes in business relations between Russia and the United States under Trump, as the new law codifies existing sanctions.” (CSIS, 10.24.17)

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

  • NATO is poised to approve the creation of two new commands (logistics command and a command for the Atlantic and Arctic oceans) 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)
  • Lithuania, which borders Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, has signed a contract to get a permanent NASAMS surface-to-air missile system from Norway within three years. Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis says the country has “started to fill in a major gap in our national defense system.” (AP, 10.26.17)
  • Any move by Finland to join NATO would need public approval via a referendum, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Oct. 30 ahead of elections in January. (Reuters, 10.30.17)

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:

  • NATO would be unable to rebuff a Russian attack on its eastern flank, according to an internal NATO report cited on Oct. 20 by German weekly Der Spiegel. The paper, Progress Report on the Strengthened Deterrence and Defense Capability of the Alliance, pointed to significant deficiencies. (RFE/RL, 10.20.17)
  • The number of ceasefire violations in Ukraine’s conflict zone has risen significantly, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Oct. 27. (Interfax, 10.27.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • After months of internal debate, the Trump administration is stalled on whether to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons. National Security Council officials insist the administration is slowly but surely working through the question. The council’s principals committee, which includes Cabinet secretaries, met on the issue several weeks ago. Now officials are formalizing a set of options to present to Trump. (The Washington Post, 10.29.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Andrew Wilson, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes: “The EU should stay the course on the Eastern Partnership. It should frontload as many beneficial policies as possible, and communicate the merit of these to the peoples of the region more effectively than it has done in the past. EU should also involve EaP states in internal EU decision-making: there should be more provision for involving partnership states in internal EU debates.” (European Council on Foreign Relations, 10.27.17)
  •  Ivo H. Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, writes: “It is critical to maintain transatlantic unity; divisions across the Atlantic and within Europe weaken NATO’s ability to respond to Russian provocations and provide openings for Moscow to extend its reach and influence. … At the same time, policymakers must remember that the United States is not at war with Russia; there is no need for Washington to put itself on a war footing, even if Moscow has. Dialogue and open channels of communication remain essential to avoiding misunderstandings and miscalculations that could escalate into a war no one wants.” (Foreign Affairs, 10.16.17)
  • Researchers Mark Gunzinger, Bryan Clark, David Johnson and Jesse Sloman write: “DOD [U.S. Defense Department] planners should consider these peacetime actions as part of China’s and Russia’s overarching military strategies. In other words, their new strategies include a continuum of activities undertaken in peacetime, such as small-scale ‘gray zone’ operations, that are designed to avoid inciting a major U.S. military response.” (Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017)


  • William E. Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, writes: “A resolution of the Ukrainian standoff appears equally unlikely, particularly with Washington raising the possibility of sending advanced defensive weapons to Ukraine. Putin does not necessarily want to escalate the crisis—Russia quickly rejected a recent attempt by the separatists to declare the independent country of Malorossiya or ‘Little Russia.’ Putin has also proposed U.N. peacekeepers for Ukraine. But no one should expect him to back down if the current balance of forces is challenged, no matter the consequences.” (NBC News, 10.30.17)
  • Dimitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes: “It appears, however, that the new grand design is slowly emerging. Russia is alone, but it is free to move. Its geographical position in the north and center of the great continent of Eurasia both allows and compels it to have a 360 degrees vision of its gigantic neighborhood … Creating a new regional order with China, India, Iran, Turkey and others will not be easy … However, the European Union and Ukraine are also part of Grand Eurasia, and the mission will not be accomplished before Europe and Russia reach a new normal based on empathy in diversity.” (The Moscow Times, 10.26.17)

Other important news:

  • Forty-one percent of surveyed Russians believe Moscow should support separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas, according to a new poll by the independent Levada Center . Thirty-seven percent said Moscow should be a neutral party. Only 6% said Moscow should support Kiev in the conflict with the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. (The Moscow Times, 10.30.17)
  • A September poll posted Oct. 30 by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the Levada Center shows that 39.9% of Ukrainians support the independence of Ukraine and Russia and stand for friendly relations between the two. At the same time, 48.4% believe that Ukraine's relations with Russia should be the same as with other countries. Some 3.7% believe that Ukraine and Russia should unite in one state. (Interfax, 10.30.17)
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO and Russia "continue to have fundamental differences" regarding the Ukraine conflict. “Our dialogue is not easy, but that is exactly why our dialogue is so important,” Stoltenberg said Oct. 26 after NATO ambassadors met with Russian envoy Aleksandr Grushko. (RFE/RL, 10.26.17)
  • Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov and U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker will hold their next round of talks in the first half of November on neutral territory. (Interfax, 10.30.17)
  • "The position on strengthening and extension of sanctions against the Russian Federation is very important for us. We highly appreciate the package of sanctions that has been introduced recently and it is very important that it touched on the energy sector," Verkhovna Rada Chairman Andriy Parubiy said Oct. 27 at a meeting with U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker in Kiev. (Interfax. 10.27.17)
  • The release of two Crimean Tatars from Russian custody this week was a good sign and hopefully means Russia will take positive steps in eastern Ukraine as well, Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to the Ukraine peace talks said Oct. 28. (Reuters, 10.28.17)
  • Germany and Russia need to overcome their mutual distrust, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Oct. 25 on a visit to Russia. The talks between Steinmeier and Russian President Vladimir Putin ranged from economic ties to the Ukraine and Syria conflicts and other international crises. The Kremlin's transcript of a speech by Steinmeier on Crimea edited his text to replace the word “annexation.” (The Moscow Times, 10.26.17, AP, 10.25.17)
  • Fellow Russians continue to suffer discrimination in Ukraine and the Baltic states, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Oct. 31. (TASS, 10.31.17)
  • OSCE Special Representative to the Contact Group on settling the Ukraine crisis, Martin Sajdik, has called for the release of prisoners before the Christmas holidays. (TASS, 10.30.17)
  • Kiev says it warned Facebook and U.S. officials years ago that Russia was conducting disinformation campaigns on its platform, including account takedowns and fake news. (Financial Times, 10.31.17)
  • News of Paul Manafort’s indictment Oct. 30 elicited cheers in Ukraine, where activists and politicians seeking to root out political corruption had seethed at Manafort’s counsel to ousted leader Viktor Yanukovych. But while Washington is wondering where the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller will lead next, Ukrainians are wondering more about what this means for the investigation into the millions of dollars in oligarch wealth that have stubbornly slowed the country’s program of reform.  (The Washington Post, 10.30.17)
  • Two Washington lobbying firms that aided former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s influence campaign on behalf of Ukraine’s deposed president were paid more than $2 million through offshore accounts tied to Manafort and his business partner, according to prosecutors. Identified in the Oct. 30 indictment only as Company A and Company B, the firms were hired to lobby in the U.S. for Ukraine and former president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. (Bloomberg, 10.30.17)
  • Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, is involved in two investigations being conducted by Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office. (Interfax, 10.31.17)
  • Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has cited a factual error in the indictment against Paul Manafort, which incorrectly lists Yulia Tymoshenko as a former president of Ukraine, as proof the allegations are "cooked up" and not part of a "serious investigation." (NBC News, 10.31.17)
  • Hungary has blocked a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission for December 2017, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said. After the Verkhovna Rada passed the bill "On Education," Hungary promised to use all available diplomatic tools to impede Ukraine's European integration. Hungary is concerned that "the Ukrainian parliament's agenda includes bills on language and citizenship that threaten Zakarpattia's Hungarian community." (Interfax, 10.28.17)
  • Ukrainian lawmaker Ihor Mosiychuk, who was wounded in an explosion in Kiev that killed two people, blamed Russia on Oct. 26 for the blast while investigators said they were considering various motives for what they called an act of terrorism. (Reuters, 10.25.17)
  • Chechen couple Adam Osmayev and Amina Okuyeva, fierce critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, were attacked near Kiev Oct. 30. Osmayev, sought by Russia on charges of involvement in a botched plot to kill Putin, was wounded, and Okuyeva was shot and killed. (AP, 10.30.17)
  • Ukraine's Energoatom and Japan's Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation have signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in modernizing the turbine island equipment of Ukrainian nuclear power plants. (World Nuclear News, 10.25.17)