June 27, 2016

Week's news express analysis № 4/06

 

LAST WEEK'S KEY FACTORS AND MAIN TRENDS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SITUATION AROUND UKRAINE

(June 20-26, 2016)

 

I. The Highest-Profile Events in the Development of the Situation around Ukraine

The most resonant event in the development of the situation around Ukraine have become the positive results of the referendum in the UK on June 23 on the country's exit from the European Union. The referendum's results have become the biggest challenge to the unity of the EU since the establishment of the Organization and will have extremely negative military-political and economic consequences both, for Europe and the United Kingdom, and for our country.

Thus, the UK's leaving the EU can be a “trigger” of a chain reaction of similar demarches and from several other European countries (according to the latest estimates, there will be up to 6 such countries), which will create the preconditions of deep political and economic crisis in the European Union. Taking into consideration most EU countries' simultaneous membership in NATO, we may expect weakening of the unity of the Alliance. This can also undermine the main component of the ensuring military security in Europe.

The EU's problems, associated with the UK's leaving the Organization, are bound to be used by Putin's regime for its own insidious purposes, first of all for further weakening the unity of the EU and NATO, creation of preconditions for lifting of sanctions against Russia, strengthening Russia's positions in Europe, and blocking the processes of European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.

In fact, the situation around the UK and the European Union has “unleashed” Moscow to achieve its strategic goals with regard to Ukraine. The objective result of the above-mentioned situation around the UK and the EU has become the strengthening of the Russian federation's anti-Ukrainian actions, including activation of the armed conflict in the Donbas, without an adequate reaction from the EU and NATO.

 

II. Peculiarities of the development of the situation in the conflict zones in Ukraine and around our State

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO zone)

After a period of somewhat lower intensity of the fighting in the East of Ukraine, since the middle of last week, the Russian-terrorist forces have stepped up firing on the positions of the ATO forces and civilian settlements in almost all directions. The average number of attacks has increased from 20-30 to more than 60 times a day with use of small arms and mortars, artillery and armored vehicles. The most actively have been shelled the positions of the ATO units near Avdiivka, Shyrokino, Maryinka, Krasnohorivka, Mayorske and Zaitsevo. Besides, the enemy's sabotage and reconnaissance groups continued their attempts to break through the Armed Forces of Ukraine's defense line.

At the same time, on 22nd June, 2016 in the village of Vodyane of Donetsk region (controlled by Ukraine), a group of observers of the OSCE Monitoring Mission was shelled from the territory controlled by the terrorist organization “DPR”, despite the coordination of the visit to the Joint Center for Monitoring and Coordination. With this in mind, there could be two reasons for the shelling of the OSCE observers: either a part of the militants are out of the control of the Russian military commanders, or those were Russia's targeted actions to intimidate representatives of the OSCE and to prove the “impossibility” of the deployment of the OSCE Armed Police Mission in the East of Ukraine. Most experts prefer the latter version.

Against this background, Russian President V. Putin and Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov made the actual ultimatum to Ukraine. According to them, the fighting in the Donbas will continue until the political settlement of the conflict. As before, the main conditions of such a “settlement” are recognition of self-proclaimed republics by Ukraine and holding elections in the “DPR” and “LPR” before the withdrawal of Russian troops from their territory and transfer to Kyiv of the control over the eastern border.

His own ultimatum to Ukraine on the elections in the occupied territories was voiced by the leader of the self-proclaimed “DPR” O. Zakharchenko. According to him, if Ukraine does not adopt the law on local elections in the Donbas by July 14, 2016, they will be carried out according to the “law of the DPR”.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

Despite all optimistic statements by representatives of the occupation authorities of the Crimea about “positive development” of the tourism industry in the Peninsula, the situation in this sphere remains extremely difficult. According to sociological researches, the number of Russians planning to holiday in the Crimea, is only 4 %, which is by 1 % less than in 2015. At this, hotel owners have already pointed out the decrease in the number of bookings for July and August this year as compared with last year.

The main reason for the tendency is the Russian citizens' decreased paying capacity, which makes them save on tourist trips. Besides, a significant problem remains the Crimean Peninsula's connection to the mainland Russia. At this, there is a decrease in Russians' interest to the Crimea, as well as weakening of euphoria about the Peninsula's "return" into the Russian Federation.

In the situation of growing economic problems in the Crimea, the Russian Federation's leadership and the local occupation authorities are trying to ensure “stability” in the Peninsula by strengthening the repressive regime in the region, especially towards the Crimean Tatars. Facts and consequences of such Russia's actions were mentioned by the Authorized Representative of the President of Ukraine for the Crimean Tatar People M. Dzhemilev on the 23nd of June, 2016, in a special report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

According to him, since the beginning of the occupation of the Crimea, the Peninsular has been left by 50 to 60 thousand people, of whom — half is the Crimean Tatars.; lately the occupation authorities have conducted about 250 raids of Crimean Tatar premises under the pretext of search of banned literature; all in all , the list of such literature includes 3 thousand different editions, and for having them one can be sentenced to 10 years in prison; not only the members of the Majlis are being arrested, but also ordinary citizens from among the Crimean Tatars.

 

III. Other Important Factors for the Development of the Situation around Ukraine, Affecting Its National Interests and Security

The Russian Federation. Against the background of armed provocations in the Donbas and attempts to force Ukraine to fulfill Russian conditions of “settlement” of the conflict in the region, Russia keeps building up its troops near the Ukrainian border and demonstrating its military power on the Western strategic direction.

Under the decision of Russia's military-political leadership, as part of the 49th Combined Arms Army of the Armed Forces (the headquarters in Stavropol) of the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation, the newly created 150th Idritsa-Berlin Order of Kutuzov II class Motorized Rifle Division is planned to be deployed. The basic unit of the new Division will be placed in Rostov region of the Russian Federation in military camps in firing fields of Kuzminskiy, Kadamovskiy and Millerovo. Due to this, the total number of the armed grouping of the RF Armed Forces on the eastern border of Ukraine will be increased to almost 100 thousand military servicemen.

At the same time, in western Russia, there continue active operational and combat trainings of the Russian Federation's Armed Forces. In particular, last week were conducted large-scale trainings on the redeployment of combat aircrafts of the Russian Federation's Air Force to advanced airfields in Voronezh and Tver regions. All in all, in the trainings were engaged more than 50 planes and helicopters, including combat bombers Su-34, fighters Su-27 and MiG-29 SMT.

In turn, in the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces were conducted trainings of the 136th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade deployed in Dagestan. About 500 military servicemen and 150 pieces of equipment participated in the trainings.

According to Canada's Military Intelligence Service's estimates, Russia's building up the group of troops on the Western direction shows Moscow's preparation for a large-scale military aggression against Ukraine and Europe.

 

IV. Ukraine and Its Allies and Partners

The USA. June 21-22, 2016, the Assistant Secretary of State V. Nuland visited Ukraine and Russia. They discussed problems of implementation of the Minsk Agreements, including a ceasefire and holding of elections in the breakaway republics.

At the same time, relations between the United States and Russia remain quite complicated. June 21, 2016 a group of American Deputies from both parties made to the Senate a draft resolution condemning Russia's military provocations against US ships and aircrafts in the Baltic Sea and in the Sea of Okhotsk. At this, they point out the danger of such actions of Moscow, which could lead to armed incidents.

Discussion of problems in relations between the USA and Russia continued in the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the US Senate on June 22, 2016. According to the statement, of the new US Ambassador to Ukraine M. Jovanović (nominated for the post by the US President B. Obama in June, 2016), Washington is ready to expand bilateral relations with Ukraine, including support for the defense reforms in Ukraine and protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In turn, according to Senior Researcher of the Atlantic Council J. Brzezinski, Russia is a bigger threat to the USA and Europe than Islamic extremists are. With this in mind, he urged US Senators to decide on giving lethal weapons to Ukraine and Georgia.

The UN. Along with Western countries and international organizations, pro-Russian sentiments are widely spread also in the United Nations. After the scandalous statement made by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the “Russia's important role in resolving the conflict in the Donbas”, another manifestation of this trend was the interview with the UN co-rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, K. Hynes to the German edition DW on the 22nd of June, 2016 with accusations of power structures of Ukraine of “human rights violations in the Donbas”. According to Mr. Hynes, “...such violations are carried out both by official security agencies and by volunteer units, and are completely ignored by Ukraine”.

The European Union. June 21, 2016, Ambassadors of the EU member states reached a preliminary agreement on the extension of sanctions against Russia till the end of this year in connection with Moscow's not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements. However, the final decision on this issue, which was scheduled for June 24, 2016, during the meeting of Foreign Ministers of EU countries was actually blocked by France, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The Council of Europe. Against this background, there remains the tendency for strengthening of pro-Russian sentiments in Europe, as well as milder perception of the fact of V. Putin's regime's armed aggression against Ukraine.

In particular, the evidence of the above-said was the fact that in his annual report (published June 20, 2016) the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for Human Rights did not mention actions of the Russian occupation forces and their supporters in the Crimea and in the Donbas, including the facts of kidnapping, arbitrary arrests and torture of civilians. This objectively is “playing into the hands of” Moscow, which is trying to improve its image before the international community.

Negative for Ukraine trends can be observed also in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Some PACE Deputies (in particular from France) speak in favor of the lifting of political sanctions against Russia and returning the Russian delegation to work in the Organization. June 22, 2016, the matter was discussed in PACE within the framework of the debate on “Confirming the Role of the Assembly as a Pan-European Forum for Inter-Parliamentary Dialogue and Cooperation”. Most of the members of the Assembly rejected the possibility of restoration of Russia's voting rights in the Organization because of Moscow's not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, the debate showed an increase in the number of MPs who actually act on the side of the Russian Federation. Thus, on June 24, 2016 the PACE Bureau called to lift sanctions against Russia and to resume dialogue with it.

NATO. Unlike the EU, the Alliance's leadership maintains tough stance against Russia. June 20, 2016 in an interview with German Süddeutsche Zeitung, NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg accused Russia of violating the “NATO-Russia Founding Act”, which provides for joint maintenance of stability in Europe, as well as respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.

Besides, J. Stoltenberg pointed out the intensification of Moscow's provocative actions, as well as the increased militarization of Russia, including the build-up of groups of Russian troops in the western parts of the country, and systematic large-scale military trainings with the participation of more than 100 thousand military servicemen. According to J. Stoltenberg, all this requires NATO's appropriate reaction, including the deployment of additional military forces of the Alliance in Central and Eastern European countries as a guarantee of their safety. At the same time, J. Stoltenberg did not rule out the possibility of dialogue with Moscow, including within the framework of the resumption of work of the Russia-NATO Council.

Austria. Commitment to Russia continues to be demonstrated by the leadership of individual countries of the European Union. Thus, on June 21, 2016 against the background of the Russian discussion by Ambassadors of EU member states, Austrian Foreign Minister S. Kurtz spoke on the need to find common ground with Moscow and gradual lifting of sanctions against Russia as it fulfills the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, he expressed hope about the possibility of the European Union's decision on such a position in the medium term.

 

V. The Main Trends in Further Development of the Situation around Ukraine

5.1. Key events that will be most important for Ukraine

The European Union. In the short term the main factor in determining the development of the situation around Ukraine, will be the consequences of the referendum in the UK on Great Britain's leaving the EU. In particular, we should expect a heated discussion in the European Union on this issue, which will be followed by the activation of Euroskeptic, left-wing, nationalist and pro-Russian forces in European countries. In such circumstances, during the summit of the European Union on 28-29 June, 2016 they can completely block the issue of extending the EU sanctions against Russia and of introduction of a visa-free regime between the European Union and Ukraine.

At the same time we cannot exclude the possibility of a second referendum in the UK on its membership in the EU. The petition signed by more than 555 thousand UK citizens has been sent to the country's Parliament.

NATO. Against the background of the problems in the EU, it will be extremely important for Ukraine to preserve NATO's support to our country. In this regard, the key event will be the summit of the Alliance on the 8-9 of July, 2016 in Warsaw. In fact, the next week will be the last step in the preparation of this event, within the framework of which it is planned to make decisions about further ways to respond to threats posed by the Russian Federation.

One of the directions of such a reaction should be the adoption of a comprehensive plan of assistance to Ukraine from the Alliance. In this context, a fundamentally new form of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO could be the opening in Kyiv of “the Center for counteracting hybrid wars”, which remain the main form of Moscow's actions to implement its geopolitical goals.

In view of Ukraine and NATO's large-scale joint military trainings, which are held on the Ukrainian territory (in particular, on the Yavoriv training ground), as well as the preparation of Ukrainian military units with the participation of NATO instructors, implementation of these plans will actually put Ukraine on a par with other countries of Central and Eastern Europe — members of the Alliance.

 

5.2. Prospects for the development of events in the conflict zones in Ukraine

The East of Ukraine. In terms of finding a solution to the conflict in the Donbas, for the 29th of June, 2016 is scheduled another meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk. Besides, it is quite possible that before the NATO summit in Warsaw there will be a meeting of the “Normandy Four” at the highest level.

The most important issues on the agenda will be the principles of organization of elections in the breakaway republics, the ability to deploy the OSCE Armed Police Mission in the conflict zone, the procedure for the exchange of prisoners, as well as plans for the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the contact line.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned “ultimatums” to Ukraine by Russia and leaders of terrorists from the “DPR”/“LPR”, on the eve of the meeting we should expect Moscow's tangible intensification of military confrontation in the Donbas, aimed at putting pressure on Ukraine, and shifting to it the responsibility for violation of the Minsk Agreements .

At the same time, in response to the Ukrainian initiative to deploy the OSCE Armed Police Mission on the eastern border of Ukraine in the zone of conflict, Russia can officially make its own proposal to deploy Russian peacekeeping forces at the contact line. This way Moscow will try to strengthen its military presence in Ukraine and to prevent the return of the self-proclaimed republics under Ukraine's control (that is, to act by Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia and South Ossetia scenarios).

 

5.3. Other events that will have an impact on the interests of Ukraine

The Russian Federation. According to American experts, despite the Putin regime's efforts to maintain stability in Russia, the growing problems of the Russian economy under the influence of Western sanctions cause a gradual increase in political tension in the country. Evidence of this is the increased number of protests in Russia (by 40 % since the beginning of this year), which fact is carefully concealed by the Russian authorities.

Among the reasons for this trend, first of all should be mentioned the decline in real incomes of the Russian population, which continues to shrink. Thus, over the past two years, Russian citizens' incomes have fallen by 10 % (lower than in Serbia, Romania and Poland). At this, in May alone, the figure was 5.7 %.

According to sociological studies, to date, 86 % of Russia's population recognize the country's transition into a state of deep economic crisis. In view of this, a conclusion is drawn about high probability of mass protests in Russia in case of falsification by the authorities of the results of the next parliamentary elections.

BSEC. July 1, 2016, in Sochi there will be a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). It is planned to discuss issues of deepening regional cooperation in the economic, financial and transport sectors. At the same time, with high probability the meeting will be used by Russia to demonstrate its “breakthrough of international isolation”, to improve its image in the world and the region, as well as to impose on the Black Sea countries Russia's position on the Crimea and the Donbas.

 

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