July 11, 2016

Week's news express analysis № 6/07

 

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

(July 4-10, 2016)

 

I. The Main Resonance Events in the Development of the Situation around Ukraine

The main event in the development of the situation around Ukraine last week was the Warsaw NATO Summit, July 8-9, 2016. Estimation of the questions submitted for discussion and of the decisions taken, allow to draw a conclusion about the strategic importance of the meeting of the leaders of NATO member countries, as one of the major events in the development and activities of the Alliance since the end of the “Cold War”.

Thus, the results of the NATO Summit showed the actual completion of the Alliance's transition from the concept of political containment of Russia with some elements of demonstration of military force, to active defence on the eastern borders of the North-Atlantic Alliance. Evidence of this was the NATO member countries' decisions on the deployment of combat units of the Alliance in Poland and the Baltic States (four battalions) and in Romania (Romanian-Bulgarian Brigade), a threefold increase in the number of NATO Response Force (up to 40 thousand military servicemen), introduction of the Initial Operational Capability of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence in Europe, recognizing cyberspace as a full sphere of activity and defence of the Alliance, as well as an increase in annual military spending by 3 %.

Despite the recent increase in the differences among European countries with respect to their attitude to Russia, and Great Britain's plans to withdraw from the European Union on the results of the referendum of June 23, 2016, the Summit confirmed the unity of positions of NATO and the EU, which signed their first Joint Declaration on cooperation in the sphere of ensuring common security.

Within the framework of this approach, the USA, NATO and the EU agreed on condemning Moscow's actions for the occupation and subsequent annexation of the Crimea, and on the recognition of V. Putin's regime's being responsible for the organization and support of the armed conflict in the Donbas. The USA, NATO and the EU also expressed their common position on the impossibility of normalizing relations with Russia, as well as the need to maintain the sanctions against it to Moscow's full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and returning the Crimea to Ukraine. At the same time, was expressed NATO's readiness to continue dialogue with Russia.

Once again, was confirmed the right of each country to choose its foreign policy course, including within the framework of relations with the North-Atlantic Alliance. In this regard, it was stressed that NATO remains open for new members, including for Ukraine and Georgia. At the same time, they pointed out the necessity of continuing reforms in defence sphere in Ukraine as one of the main prerequisites for its Euro-Atlantic integration.

Taking into consideration the continued Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, at the meeting of NATO-Ukraine Commission on July 9, was adopted a Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) for Ukraine, which includes more than 40 different ways in which the Alliance will provide support to Ukraine in the sphere of defence and security. The main ones are as follows: assisting Ukraine in reforming its defence sector up to NATO standards; deepening military-technical cooperation between the member countries of the Alliance and Ukraine; joint exercises; NATO's participation in the preparation of Ukrainian military units; allocation of funds for the implementation of a number of targeted programs, including demining in the Donbas; strengthening the protection of cyber sphere and rehabilitation of the wounded.

Note: July 8, 2016, President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko by his Decree formed the Commission for coordination of Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, as a subsidiary body under the Head of State. Chairman of the Commission is Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze.

Besides, during a separate meeting in the format of the “G5 + Ukraine”, with the participation of US President B. Obama, German Chancellor A. Merkel, French President F. Hollande, British Prime Minister D. Cameron, Italian Prime Minister M. Renzi and President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko, the situation in the Donbas was discussed.

The situation around Ukraine and in the conflict zone in the East of our State was discussed also in P. Poroshenko's bilateral meetings with the leaders of Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, and Finland. Ukraine's partners expressed readiness to continue to support our State in the confrontation with Russia. In particular, an agreement was reached to develop a “Road Map of Implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” with the assistance of Western countries.

The positions and the decision of NATO member countries, including in respect of Ukraine, are enshrined in the final Warsaw Declaration of the Alliance, as well as in the final document of the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

In general, the progress, content and results of the NATO Summit in Warsaw showed preservation of the unity and the principled nature of the Alliance's position regarding Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine, which is considered the main threat to the collective security of Europe and causes a complex resistance on the part of the Alliance. In turn, NATO's support for Ukraine is a powerful factor in strengthening the international position of our country and strengthening its defence capabilities, it increases Ukrainian capabilities in countering the Russian Federation's aggressive policy and practice.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO zone)

The situation in the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine maintained an elevated level of tension. Russian-terrorist forces continued shelling positions of the ATO forces and civilian settlements with an average intensity of more than 60 shellings a day. The most active the enemy's actions were on the right wing of Svetlodarsk arc (near Horlivka) and near Donetsk.

Based on the characteristics of the situation in the Donbas and around Ukraine, Russia's intensifying its military actions in the conflict zone may have a number of tactical and strategic goals, namely: displacement of the ATO forces from the areas of transport communications passing through Horlivka and Debaltsevo; continued military pressure on Ukraine, as well as demonstration in front of the United States, NATO and the EU of the stability of Russia's positions in the implementation of its interests.

Taking into consideration Moscow's long-term plans with regard to Ukraine, the leadership of the self-proclaimed republics takes additional steps to prepare commanders of illegal armed groups. A decision has been taken on the organization of military departments based on higher educational institutions, which have remained in the “LPR” (currently such departments have been created at “DPR”'s universities). In particular, at the Dahl University they plan to train artillerists, at the Agrarian University — tank drivers, at the Pedagogical University — communication specialists, at the Donbas Technical University — specialists in the field of operation of radar equipment.

Russia has been noticed using new forms and methods of action against the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. Thus, together with intensifying the armed conflict in the Donbas, the Russian Federation has stepped up its attempts to block the movement of columns of the ATO forces through some settlements on the most important directions. The organizers of such actions are representatives of the Russian special services, and in conducting them, the organizers use local criminal and pro-Russian elements.

Apart from this, on the initiative of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (ROC) is being prepared a so-called “Religious procession” to Kyiv. To this end, with the participation of representatives of the ROC, organizational and propaganda work is conducted among the population of the breakaway republics, “DPR” and “LPR”. The event is planned for the second half of July 2016.

Against the background of the above-mentioned events, July 4, 2016, in Minsk was held a regular meeting of the Humanitarian Subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group. The main issue was prisoner exchange. No specific decisions were made. Russia and the controlled by it leaders of the “DPR”/“LPR” continue using the prisoners issue as an instrument of pressure on Ukraine.

On the eve of the NATO Summit in Warsaw, the leadership of the Russian Federation had made a series of attempts to influence the USA and major European countries' positions on the Ukrainian issue. For example, on Moscow's initiative there were V. Putin's telephone talks with the leaders of the USA, Germany and France, in which the Russian President in his usual manner, accused Ukraine of not fulfilling its part of the Minsk Agreement, such as determination of the special status of the “DPR” and “LPR”, local elections in their territory and granting amnesty to militants. Western leaders rejected Russia's accusations of Ukraine and urged V. Putin to take measures to halt the escalation of hostilities in the Donbas.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

Due to lack of funds caused by economic problems in Russia, including due to international sanctions, July 7, 2016, the Russian Federation's leadership recognized the failure of the implementation of plans for the introduction into service of the strategic transport bridge across the Kerch Strait by the end of 2018. The start of the railway bridge once again has been postponed for another year — to December 2019.

Despite Moscow's failure to solve the problems of the Crimea, the Crimean theme is used by Russian authorities within the framework of the beginning of the preparation for parliamentary elections in the country. In order to increase the popularity of the ruling party “United Russia”, its electoral list includes a number of representatives of the Crimean occupation authorities, including the so-called “head” of the Crimea S. Aksenov and the Russian Attorney of the Peninsula N. Poklonskaya.

Besides, the Russian leadership has continued its efforts to simulate the “international recognition of the Crimea's belonging to Russia”. At the invitation of the Russian State Duma, the occupation authorities of Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet Command, on the 31st of July 2016, is expected a visit to the Crimea of a delegation of French senators to participate in the celebration of the Russian Federation's Navy's Day. The delegation is supposed to include notorious French politicians of pro-Russian orientation, including the leader of the political party “National Front” Marine Le Pen and Deputy of the National Assembly (Lower House of the Parliament) of France Thierry Mariani, who illegally visited the Crimea in July 2015.

The French parliamentarians' intentions to visit the Crimea have been officially condemned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, which called them an illegal initiative, having nothing to do with the position of Paris and the European Union. At the same time, the French Foreign Ministry has confirmed the illegality of Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea.

At the same time, there are some negative for Ukraine changes in the USA's attitude to the Crimea. In particular, the US Department of State has authorized the world's largest online learning platform Coursera to conduct work in the Crimea and Sevastopol (after Russia's annexation of the Crimea, the work of the platform on the Peninsula was blocked). According to Russian experts, the restoration of the Coursera site in the Crimea shows “... Washington's readiness for gradual lifting of sanctions against Russia”.

At the same time, the process of recognition of the Crimea's “being part of Russia” is continued by local authorities of certain provinces of Italy and of several other European countries. July 5, 2016, at the initiative of the faction of the party “Northern League”, the Regional Council of the Italian province of Lombardy passed a resolution “On Recognition of the Principle of Self-Determination of the Crimea and the Lifting of Sanctions against Russia”. The document obliges the Council to interact with the Government of Italy for the resumption of dialogue with Russia, lifting the EU sanctions against the Russian Federation, as well as changing the European policy in relation to non-recognition “of the Russian status” of the Crimea. The Resolution has been supported by factions of some other European parties, including “Forza Italia”, “Brothers of Italy — National Alliance” and the “Five Stars” movement. Against were the representatives of the “Democratic Party” and the “Civil Agreement”. In June 2016, similar decisions were made by regional councils of the Italian provinces of Veneto and Liguria.

In turn, on July 6 2016, the Regional Council of the Italian province of Tuscany and Cyprus Parliament adopted a resolution calling on the leaderships of their countries and the European Union to lift sanctions against Russia, but have refrained from recognizing the Crimea as part of Russia.

In general, these decisions-resolutions has been called by Russia “... manifestations of the further deepening of cracks in the split of Europe after Brexit”.

 

2.3. Other Factors of Russia's Threatening Actions against Ukraine and the West

The Russian Federation's leadership strengthens trade and economic pressure on Ukraine, as a way of Russia's economic war against Ukraine. For example, on July 4 2016, Russian President V. Putin signed a decree to ban the road and railway transportation of goods from Ukraine to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan via the Russian territory.

At the same time, Russia continues its actions to build groups of troops in the West direction. In particular, by the middle of 2017 is planned to complete the process of deploying a new motorized division of Russia in the Smolensk region (headquarters in Yelnya city), which will be part of the 20th Guards Combined Arms Army of the Western Military District of the Russian Armed Forces.

At the same time, Russia continues blatant provocations against the EU and NATO. 27, 28 and 30 June, and July 5, 2016, two Russian reconnaissance aircrafts and two fighters were approaching air borders of Lithuania and Latvia without giving flight plans to the international system of air traffic control and their radio was off. Fighters of the Air Policing Mission of NATO, stationed in the Baltic countries, took off to intercept the Russian planes.

 

III. Ukraine and Its Allies and Partners

The USA. The US leadership activates measures to support the ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is the official candidate from the “Democratic Party” in the presidential elections in November 2016. July 5, 2016, the US President B. Obama made his first appearance at a public meeting, which was held within the framework of Hillary Clinton's election campaign. This increases the chances for her victory over D. Trump that, in its turn, will contribute to the formation of the United States' strong position in putting pressure on Russia and supporting Ukraine.

Very important for Ukraine was the visit to our country of the Secretary of State of the USA J. Kerry on 7 July this year as part of preparations for NATO Summit. The head of the US Foreign Service stressed Washington's principled position in preserving the Alliance's openness to new members, positively estimated the efforts of the Ukrainian government to implement political and economic reforms in the country, and expressed the United States' intentions to keep sanctions against Russia to the RF's full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and returning the Crimea to Ukraine. At the same time, John Kerry connected the prospects of Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine with the effectiveness of the reforms in the defence sector of our State. He also expressed the USA's readiness to assist Ukraine in addressing this issue.

The European Union. Despite the strengthening of pro-Russian and Euroskeptic sentiments in the EU, the Organization's leadership demonstrates a positive attitude to the prospects of the European Union's rapprochement with Ukraine. July 7 2016, the Committee of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs endorsed the report of the Polish Deputy J. Saryusz-Wolski on the need for easing the visa regime with our country. The European Parliament's conclusions will have a positive impact on the EU's final decision on the matter.

In turn, at the request of the EU representative in Ukraine Jan Tombinskyi, members of the European Union do not intend to support the Netherlands' demand to amend the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. This issue became the subject of a separate discussion at the EU Summit on 27-28 June 2016, the participants of which confirmed the joint position regarding Ukraine.

Similar estimates of the EU and Ukraine have also been made by the Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel. Besides, according to her, the UK's intentions to withdraw from the EU will not affect the plans for enlargement of the European Union and the implementation of other programs of the Organization. In particular, the integration process into the EU of the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo). However, A. Merkel acknowledged the complexity of preserving the unity of the EU on the issue of the extension of the sanctions against the Russian Federation. The reason for this is the increase in the number of supporters of Russia in the EU countries, which reduces the pressure on the V. Putin’s regime.

In this context, of special importance is Great Britain's support for extension of the EU's sanctions against Russia. Based on the results of the discussion of the Russian issue on 4 July 2016, the Defence Committee of the British Parliament issued an appeal to the government to extend personal sanctions against Russian officials and other persons involved in Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine.

 

OSCE. July 4, 2016, at the results of the jubilee (25th) Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was adopted a Resolution on the events in Ukraine and around it, which calls on Russia to stop military aggression against Ukraine, condemns Moscow's annexation of the Crimea, and recognizes the need to maintain sanctions against V. Putin's regime to Russia's full implementation of the demands of the international community. Besides, the Resolution separately points out the importance of strengthening international control over the eastern border of Ukraine, as well as ensuring full access of international observers to all objects in the occupied territories of Ukraine, including in the Crimean Peninsula.

At this, were declined the Russian side's attempts to include into the Document the provision on the “fallacy” of the European policy of sanctions against Russia. In fact, the OSCE Resolution was yet another confirmation of the preservation of European unity on the Ukrainian issue (after the extension of the EU sanctions against Russia), despite Moscow's attempts to create the impression of “... the spread of pro-Russian sentiments in European countries”.

 

IV. Other Important Trends and Events that Affect Ukraine's National Interests

Against the background of Moscow's active actions to implement its geopolitical interests, one can see further deterioration of the economic situation in Russia. According to the RF Ministry of Economic Development, by the end of 2017, Russia will have fully exhausted its Reserve Fund and will have to move to the use of funds from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) to cover the country's state budget deficit. Taking this into consideration, within the next three years, the resources of the NWF will be reduced by 2.8 trillion rubles — almost to 500 billion rubles. In this regard, the Ministry of Finance plans to increase domestic borrowing to 300 billion rubles in 2016 and to 1.29 trillion rubles in 2017.

In order to prevent further aggravation of these problems, the Russian Federation's government decided to freeze the budget expenditures for the implementation of 36 (out of 42) federal programs for three years. A number of Russian Ministries and Departments are against this, including the Ministry of Agriculture, which demands to increase the funding due to “... the inability to ensure food security of the country”.

Complication of internal problems takes place also in quasi-entities — Russia's allies. In particular, July 5-6, 2016, in Abkhazia the opposition party “Amtsakhara” organized a large-scale protest action with demand to postpone the referendum on early presidential elections from 10 July to the autumn of this year, and demanded resignation of the “Minister of Internal Affairs” of the breakaway republic L. Dzapshba. At this, the opposition leaders justified their demands by the impossibility of holding a referendum in the above-mentioned terms due to pressure on the organizers by the Abkhaz authorities and law enforcement agencies. Like in several previous cases, the protest turned into riots, during which attempts were made to capture and burn the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Abkhazia.

The “head” of the self-proclaimed republic R. Khajimba agreed to dismiss the “Interior Minister”, but categorically denies the possibility of postponing the referendum. Given that, in the future we should expect continuing tensions in Abkhazia, including the possibility of another social unrest.

 

V. Main Trends in the Development of the Situation around Ukraine in the Future

5.1. Key Events That Will Be Most Important for Ukraine

Next week, the main factor to influence the situation around Ukraine will be the results of the NATO Summit, and the reaction to them in Western countries and in Russia. Thus, the fact of adoption of all the planned decisions of the Summit, particularly in the context of countering Russia's aggressive policy, will be a powerful factor in the recovery of consolidation of the Euro-Atlantic space, despite the strengthening of pro-Russian sentiments in some European countries, and the United Kingdom's plans to withdraw from the EU. At this, these decisions will be most important for Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries, which are the main targets of Moscow's direct or indirect aggression.

At the same time, discussion of the decisions of the NATO Summit in member countries of the Alliance will cause an active discussion in their political circles, including at the parliamentary level. In this context, one should expect intensification of the activity of Euroskeptic, pro-Russian and left-wing forces in Europe, aimed at disruption of the agreements reached within the framework of NATO.

First of all, manifestations of such activity are possible in Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary. At this, the sharpest will be the questions of the deployment of NATO troops in the CEE and Baltic States, as well as increased pressure on Russia and support to Ukraine in the sphere of defence.

In turn, the decisions of the NATO Summit will cause an extremely negative reaction on the part of the Russian Federation, including both, making decisions on further strengthening of groups of its forces in western regions of the country and conducting provocations, and enhancing information campaign against the USA/NATO as well as activation of actions against the CEE and Baltic states, including using the methods of “hybrid war”.

At the same time, the Alliance and the Russian Federation will maintain readiness for dialogue. In particular, July 13 2016, it is planned to hold the second since the beginning of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine, meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. According to the NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg, on the part of the Alliance will be discussed further relations of the parties in the new geopolitical situation, as well as Russia's not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements and Russia's increased military activity near the borders of the member countries of the Alliance. In its turn, Russia “... intends to seek explanations from NATO” on the objectives of strengthening NATO's military presence in the CEE and Baltic States. Besides, we may expect continuation of Moscow's attempts to justify Russian policy toward Ukraine, and to shift onto Ukraine the responsibility for the intensified fighting in the Donbas.

How under such circumstances will behave “G5” (USA, UK, Germany, France and Italy) in the talks with Russia in the context of Russia's fulfilling/not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements and in general in the relationship in the future, will be shown by the events of the next weeks and months.

 

5.2. Prospects for the Development of the Situation in the Conflict Zone on the Territory of Ukraine

A meeting of the Tripartite Contact Group is planned to take place in Minsk on 13 July 2016. The main issues on the agenda will include the official agreement on the demarcation line in the conflict zone in the Donbas, as well as possible solutions to the problem of the exchange of prisoners of war.

In the context of the first question, we should not exclude the possibility of a number of Russia's local offensives to expand its controlled areas in the East of Ukraine and to establish de facto a favorable for Moscow demarcation line (as it was done in the beginning of last year in the area of ​​Debaltsevo). First of all, such Russia's actions can be expected near Svetlodarsk arc, Donetsk, Avdiivka and in the suburbs of Mariupol. Evidence of this is the increased transportation of troops and weapons from Russia to the occupied territory of Ukraine. At the same time, in order to put pressure on Ukraine, Russia will continue blocking the process of exchange of prisoners of war.

 

 

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