Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Sept. 5-12, 2017

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • Russia’s richest hold as much as 60% of their wealth overseas. (Bloomberg, 09.12.17)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Russia’s Foreign Ministry is preparing a number of measures it may employ against U.S. diplomats in retaliation for the closure of consular properties in the United States. Options include: ousting more American diplomats, limiting the number of entry points for American diplomats into Russia, limiting unrestricted travel and making changes to the special parking privileges the U.S. diplomatic mission to Russia now enjoys, which Russian diplomats in the U.S. do not have. (The Moscow Times, 09.11.17)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • More than 2,800 civilians have been killed and 7,000 to 9,000 wounded during the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to a report published Sept. 12 by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). According to the report, from May 16 to Aug. 15, 2017, OHCHR recorded 161 conflict-related civilian casualties—26 deaths and 135 injuries, slightly more than half of which were caused by shelling. (TASS, 09.12.17)
  • From Sept. 5 to Sept. 12, a total of two Ukrainian soldiers were killed in action in the Donbas and five were wounded, the press center of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) headquarters has reported. Ukrainian Gen. Anatoly Shtefan claimed that Russian serviceman Gennady Mironov was killed in the Donbas. (UNIAN, 09.12.17, 09.10.17, 09.09.17, 09.08.17)
  • The new U.S. sanctions law threatens to cut off a vital channel for Russia’s funding of its massive defense buildup. Officials in the government and state banks—Sberbank PJSC and VTB Bank PJSC are the biggest players—are looking for ways to get around the restrictions or minimize their impact on the funding. Some financing has already been delayed. (Bloomberg, 09.12.17)
  • Russia’s Kaspersky Lab cyber-security firm could shutter its Washington D.C. branch, which offers services to the U.S. government, as it faces increased scrutiny over suspected ties to Russian security services. (The Moscow Times, 09.12.17)

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

  • Sweden has started its largest military exercise in over 20 years, with nearly 20,000 troops drilling on air, land and sea, including a contingent of over 1,000 U.S. soldiers, amid rising military activity in the Baltic Sea region. (AP, 09.11.17)

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:

  • Russia has begun military drills ahead of major war games that NATO allies are concerned about, but say are helping them better prepare for future tensions. Russia has said the exercise will formally begin on Sept. 14 and run through Sept. 20. But ahead of the official start, Russia announced lower-level training exercises along its western border. British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has said Russia's upcoming military maneuvers with Belarus are aimed at "provoking" NATO and "testing" its defenses. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said he sees no "imminent threat" from Russia's upcoming military maneuvers with Belarus, but criticized Moscow for not being more open about the drills.  (RFE/RL, 09.10.17, Wall Street Journal, 09.12.17, RFE/RL, 09.06.17)
  • The opening ceremony of the Rapid Trident 2017 exercise took place on Sept. 11 at the base of the International Peacekeeping and Security Center of the Ukrainian Armed Force’s Hetman Sahaidachny Ground Forces Academy in the Lviv region. This year’s drill involves about 2,500 servicemen from 15 countries, among them Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Italy, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey. (Kyiv Post, 09.12.17)
  • Almost all combat military units of Ukraine’s air force have been put on alert for tryout. (Interfax, 09.12.17)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that as part of his trip to the United States for participation in the session of the U.N. General Assembly, he will also hold meetings with the U.S. military and members of the U.S. Defense Department. (Interfax, 09.12.17)

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Fredrik Wesslau, director of the Wider Europe Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, writes: “Regardless of Russia’s long-term policy direction, its diplomats will attempt to shape the terms of the peacekeeping mission to support Russia’s official position of reintegration. The West—and the particularly U.S., UK and France in their role as UNSC members—need to ensure that the terms of the mission promote de-escalation of the war and support Ukrainian sovereignty.” (European Council on Foreign Relations, 09.11.17)
  • Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, writes: “Despite doubts about the Russian president’s proposal, German and American officials cautiously welcomed it. That was the right thing to do. Instead of rejecting the proposal outright, Ukraine, Germany and Kiev’s friends on the Security Council considered testing Moscow’s seriousness. Now that proposal must be reshaped. A U.N. peacekeeping force could make a serious contribution to ending the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donbass—if it has a proper mandate.” (The National Interest, 09.11.17)
  • Sam Nunn and Ernest J. Moniz, the co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the former U.S. Energy Secretary, write: “Washington and Moscow must recognize that despite their deep differences, there is an urgent need to address areas of common interest, chief among them reducing nuclear and other military risks and preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks.” (The Washington Post, 09.06.17)


  • Jeffrey Mankoff and Jonathan Hillman, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program and the director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, write: “Completion of Nord Stream-2 and Turkish Stream [pipelines] would allow Russia to continue servicing European customers while dramatically reducing the volumes of gas it ships through Ukraine. Not only would Ukraine lose out on transit fees, it would face the possibility of Moscow cutting its gas supplies off in a crisis.” (Financial Times, 09.06.17)
  • Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt writes: “That Donbas needs peace is obvious. Already some 10,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. And Ukraine needs peace to go forward with its democratic reforms. Eventually, so will Russia. It could be the key to not only a more cooperative relationship with the West, but also long-term reconciliation with a Ukraine that otherwise risks becoming an eternal enemy of Russia.” (The Washington Post, 06.07.17)
  • Igor Sutyagin, a senior research fellow at RUSI, writes: “A forensic analysis of the data available about the [Zapad] West-2017 exercises, including that related to mandatory reporting of the military equipment restricted by the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, suggests the number of troops participating in the exercises will be closer to 65–70,000.” (RUSI, 09.12.17)

Other important news:

  • In the third month of Donald Trump’s presidency, Russian President Vladimir Putin dispatched one of his diplomats to the U.S. State Department to deliver a bold proposition: The full normalization of relations between the United States and Russia across all major branches of government. By May, the two countries would hold “special consultations” on the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the “situation in Ukraine” and efforts to denuclearize the “Korean Peninsula,” according to the document obtained by BuzzFeed. (BuzzFeed, 09.12.17)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept. 11 that U.N. peacekeepers might be deployed to eastern Ukraine not only on the Donbas contact line separating the sides of the conflict, but also in other parts where OSCE inspectors work.  Putin, in a phone call with Merkel, gave her a detailed description of Russia’s initiative to establish a U.N. mission to protect observers from a special OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. (Reuters, 09.11.17)
    • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says that the purpose of a proposed U.N.-mandated peacekeeping mission in war-torn eastern Ukrainian must be to foster peace, not to cement what he called "Russia's occupation" of a chunk of his country. Poroshenko and other senior officials in Kiev have long called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to be deployed in eastern Ukraine. In February 2015, Poroshenko said such a force would help guarantee security “in a situation where the promise of peace is not being kept.” Poroshenko also counts on support for Ukraine's initiative to introduce U.N. peacekeepers to Donbas at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. (RFE/RL, 09.07.17, RFE/RL, 09.06.17, Interfax, 09.12.17)
    • The United States cautiously welcomed a Russian proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers into eastern Ukraine, but insisted that the force should be deployed throughout embattled eastern Ukraine and not just on the line of conflict. “Any such force should have a broad mandate for peace and security throughout the occupied territory in Ukraine,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports Russia’s proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine. (AP, 09.06.17, The Washington Post , 09.07.17)
  • Russia on Sept. 12 strongly condemned a new education law in Ukraine, saying it will infringe on the rights of Russian-speakers. The law, approved Sept. 5 by the Ukrainian parliament, restructures Ukraine’s education system and specifies that Ukrainian must be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. The angriest reaction came from Budapest, where foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Ukraine had “stabbed Hungary in the back” and announced that his government would complain about the new law to the EU and United Nations. (AP, 09.12.17, The Irish Times, 09.12.17)
  • The European Union does not recognize the regional elections held in Crimea and Sevastopol on Sept. 10, a European External Action Service spokesperson said in a statement. (TASS, 09.12.17)
  • EU lawmakers are pushing for an end to international data roaming charges between the EU and Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, a trust fund for Ukrainian investment and possibly more sanctions on Russia ahead of a summit in Brussels in November. (RFE/RL, 09.11.17)
  • Crimean Tatar leader Ahtem Chiygoz, who led protests against Russia’s plans to annex Crimea from Ukraine, was jailed for eight years in the disputed territory on Sept. 11–a move Ukraine’s president called an act of Russian repression. (Reuters, 09.11.17)
  • Ukraine is ready to satisfy the request of Russian gas giant Gazprom to increase the transit of natural gas to Europe via Ukraine, the press service of Ukraine’s Naftogaz said on Sept. 11. (TASS, 09.11.17)
  • A push for overhauls encouraged by Ukraine's Western backers is deepening divisions in the government, including a call by some officials for the dismissal or investigation of reformist Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk. The clash has raised concern in the U.S. and European Union and presents a new challenge for the country’s economy, which is recovering from a two-year recession sparked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military interventions in Ukraine’s east. (Wall Street Journal, 09.12.17)
  • On Sept. 11, a day after forcing his way past border guards back into Ukraine, former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said he would unite the opposition against his former ally President Petro Poroshenko and planned to campaign for support. Ukrainian border-control authorities formally read out a document to Saakashvili on his illegal entry into Ukraine. Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Saakashvili is wanted on “serious” criminal charges after entering Ukraine illegally and sparking a brawl on the border with Poland. (Reuters, 09.12.17, RFE/RL, 09.12.17)
  • A bomb exploded in a car in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Sept. 8, killing one man and injuring two other people in what police suspect is the fourth targeted car bombing in just over a year. Police and witnesses identified the victim as Timur Makhauri, a Chechen with Georgian citizenship. Police and several people who knew Makhauri claimed he was a member of a Ukrainian volunteer battalion who fought against Russia-backed separatists in the country’s war-racked east. That claim could not be immediately verified. (RFE/RL, 09.08.17)