Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • About 1,000 Ukrainians who became victims of human trafficking have been convicted in Russia for drug-related crimes. (Interfax, 10.03.17)

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • U.S. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben Cardin are warning U.S. President Donald Trump to enforce the Russia sanctions that Congress recently passed into law over Trump's objections. A letter by the senators released Sept. 29 said Congress would conduct "vigorous oversight" of the law, which cements in place existing sanctions, adds new ones, and makes it harder for Trump to lift them unilaterally. (RFE/RL, 09.29.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Russia could ban Facebook next year if it fails to comply with a 2015 law requiring companies to store Russian citizens’ personal data on local servers. (The Moscow Times, 09.26.17)
  • Russia’s antitrust watchdog has described U.S. company Schlumberger’s bid to take control of Russia’s Eurasia Drilling Companyas “a risk to the country.” (Financial Times, 09.28.17)
  • Russia’s communications regulator, Roskomnadzor, on Sept. 29 accused CNN International of violating Russian media law. (Reuters, 09.29.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • Transit via Ukraine's gas transport system rose 23.4% year-on-year in January-September to 70.357 billion cubic meters of natural gas. (Interfax, 10.02.17)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • From Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, one Ukrainian soldier was killed in action in the Donbas and eight were wounded, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) headquarters has reported. Two Ukrainian border guards were also killed in Luhansk in an explosion, and Russia’s Federal Security Service says one Russian border guard was killed in a shootout with two men who tried to cross into Ukraine. (UNIAN, 09.27.17, 09.30.17, 09.30.17, 10.02.17, 09.28.17, AP, 10.02.17)
  • Russia’s sovereign rating would be one notch higher than its current BBB- level if not for the latest round of U.S. sanctions. (Reuters, 09.28.17)

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

  • Top Macedonian officials say the Balkan nation will show why it should become the next country to join NATO. (RFE/RL, 09.27.17)

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:

  • Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of Primakov, writes: “If left to its own devices, the situation in eastern Ukraine is unlikely to improve, creating a real danger of further fighting and suffering by innocent civilians. The current military, political and economic confrontation between Russia and the West could become permanent and lead to a new Cold War. In the worst-case scenario, there is a high enough probability of a return to large-scale combat operations in Ukraine and neighboring regions that directly involve Russian and, potentially, NATO forces.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.28.17)
  • Ulrich Kühn, a nonresident scholar with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes: “No seasoned NATO official expected [Zapad-2017] to be the not-so-secret cover for a Russian invasion of the Baltic States—which could easily become the overture to World War III. Rather, the real problem with Zapad is that it underscored once more the precarious state of security in Europe.” (War on the Rocks, 09.27.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee said he recommended that the United States provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine to help the country "protect [its] sovereignty." (RFE/RL, 09.27.17)
  • Nine Ukrainian battalions are currently interoperable with NATO forces, Ukrainian Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko said. (Interfax, 09.30.17)
  • The United States will provide $5 million to Ukraine to strengthen cyber security. (Interfax, 10.02.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • John Tefft, America’s outgoing ambassador to Russia, told Kommersant daily that the proposed U.N. peacekeeping forces in Ukraine should be given a broad mandate allowing them to work on the entire territory affected by the conflict. This includes international control on the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine-Russia border, so that deepening or institutionalizing the dividing lines within Ukraine can be avoided. If there’s progress in implementation of the Minsk II deal, then the U.S. will be ready to ease some sanctions on Russia. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has earlier said that Russia’s involvement in the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Ukraine is “absolutely impossible.” (Russia Matters, 09.28.17, TASS, 09.26.17)


  • Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of Primakov, writes: “A complete cessation of violence in southeastern Ukraine, the essential first condition of Minsk implementation, requires nothing less than a full-scale peacekeeping operation authorized by the U.N. Security Council.” (Carnegie Moscow Center, 09.28.17)
  • Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, writes: “Russia has been steadily announcing that it plans to shift its export routes by 2019. The response of the European Union commissioner in charge of energy matters, Maros Sefcovic, is to try to continue to compel Russia to use Ukraine as a transit country. But this strategy appears to be doomed to failure. …We have a clear deadline: 2019, when the new lines are expected to be finished and the current Ukraine-Russia gas transit contract expires. Now is the time to consider the policies that would be needed to secure and promote Western interests—and not to assume that Russia will keep footing the bill.” (The National Interest, 10.03.17)

Other important news:

  • U.S. State Department Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker and Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov may meet a second time at the end of this week. (Interfax, 10.02.17)
  • Ukraine's armed forces now number 250,000 troops, the maximum stipulated by law, deputy head of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces Artur Artemenko has said. (Interfax, 10.03.17) 
  • The Zapad-2017 military exercises revealed significant strides in Russia’s ability to conduct complex, large-scale operations using drones and other new technology that would be part of any all-out war with the United States in Europe. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, ''Russia's forces are becoming more mobile, more balanced and capable of conducting the full range of modern warfare.'' Russia has denied allegations by Ukrainian military chief Viktor Muzhenko that it left troops behind in Belarus after staging the West military exercises there. (New York Times, 10.01.17, RFE/RL, 10.01.17)
  • All recent blasts at ammunition depots in Ukraine resulted from acts of sabotage, even though this was facilitated by the negligence of officials, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko said. (Interfax, 09.30.17)
  • Russia is helping Ukrainian rebels sell coal on international markets to raise cash for pensions and social needs, evading a blockade imposed by Kiev as efforts to implement a peace deal remain stalled. The separatists are sending nearly 1 million tons of coal per month to Russia as of August. (Bloomberg, 09.28.17)
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service says a Russian soldier has been detained, along with a "female acquaintance," on suspicion of spying for Kiev in Crimea. (RFE/RL, 09.29.17)
  • The United States on Oct. 3 called for the release of Crimean Tatar leader Ilmi Umerov, who opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and was last week found guilty of separatism and sentenced to two years in a prison colony. (Reuters, 10.03.17)
  • Lawyers say authorities in Russia-controlled Crimea have detained four Crimean Tatars on suspicion of extremism in what activists and the Ukrainian government said was part of a discriminatory campaign targeting members of the Muslim group. (RFE/RL, 10.02.17)
  • Ukraine has marked the 76th anniversary of a World War II-era massacre of 33,771 Jews by Nazi troops on the outskirts of occupied Kiev. (RFE/RL, 09.29.17)
  • Former Georgian president and leader of the Movement of New Forces political party Mikheil Saakashvili has filed a request for political asylum in Ukraine, his lawyer Markiyan Galabala said. (TASS, 10.03.17)
  • The World Bank retains its forecast for Ukraine's GDP growth at 2%. (Interfax, 10.03.17)
  • Ukraine’s parliament has adopted legislation to overhaul the country’s dysfunctional pension system, marking a big and long-delayed step towards deepening reform efforts as part of a $17.5 billion International Monetary Fund assistance program. Ukraine will also tackle the land reform requirements of the aid by using blockchain technology to manage its registry of farmland, as its current system is vulnerable to fraud, leading to conflicts over ownership. (Financial Times, 10.03.17, Bloomberg, 10.03.17)
  • Ukraine cut coal production 11.5% year-on-year in January-September to 26.15 million tons. (Interfax, 10.03.17)