July 25, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 8/07

 

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

(July 18-24, 2016)

 

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

The highest-profile events of the latest fortnight were those associated with activation of extremism and terrorism actually all over the world. Evidence of this is as follows: the terrorist attack with mass casualties in France (the resort town of Nice); the military coup attempt in Turkey; the armed unrest in Armenia (the capture by the radical opposition of the building of a Police regiment in Yerevan and demonstrators' clashes with the Police); the new manifestations of extremism in Kazakhstan (the attack on the building of the District Department of the Interior Ministry and the Department of National Security Committee in Almaty); the murder in Kyiv (due to undermining of the car) of the well-known journalist Pavlo Sheremet; the jihadist attack on the UN peacekeepers' base in Mali; the large-scale terrorist attack during the Hazara minority's demonstration in Kabul, as well as the series of attacks on the Police in the United States.

These events caused a secondary wave of incidents that were carried out by individuals within the framework of actions of terrorist organizations, and for personal reasons. Examples of this were the Afghani man's attack on train passengers in Germany July 18, 2016; the shooting by unidentified of civilians in Lincolnshire (UK) July 19, 2016, and in Munich (Germany), July 22, 2016. Besides, July 21, 2016 Brazil’s special services arrested a group of individuals who had planned to carry out attacks in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games (August 5-21, 2016).

All this confirms the reality of the threats of extremism and terrorism to any country of the world, as well as the presence of the potential for conflict in both, traditionally problematic, and in quite peaceful countries with a long democratic tradition. The above-mentioned challenges and threats are relevant for Ukraine, as they directly affect its interests and security.

First of all, this concerns diverting the world's attention from Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, which in these circumstances becomes secondary to key international problems. At the same time, the above-mentioned developments pose a threat of weakening the EU and NATO, which today are influential Western partners of our country and the main factor of deterring the Russian Federation in its aggression against Ukraine.

The reasons for the latter were as follows: aggravation of the situation in Turkey, covering the southern flank of NATO in the Black Sea region; new problems in the relations between Turkey and the United States (because of Washington's refusal to give away the Islamic preacher F. Gülen, whom Ankara considers the rebels' leader); growth of disagreements between the countries of the European Union (including on Turkey's possible membership in the EU, the migration problem in Europe, visa restrictions, and so on) which leads to further spread of Euro-skeptic moods in the EU.

An extremely dangerous consequence of the military coup attempt in Turkey for all countries of the Black Sea region has become going out from under Ankara's control of the Turkish Armed Forces, including military aircrafts and ships with missile weapons. The above-mentioned may lead to new armed incidents with unpredictable consequences.

These circumstances are already being used, and certainly will in the future be used by Russia for its own purposes within the framework of continuing aggression against Ukraine, strengthening Russian positions in the Black Sea region, as well as to undermine the unity of the EU and NATO member countries and to intimidate them.

At the same time, a serious threat to Russia's interests is the worsening of the internal situation in Armenia and Kazakhstan, which are Moscow's partners in the Eurasian Economic Union and CSTO. All this expands the “arc of instability” around Russia, as well as increases the risk of extension of extremism to the Russian Federation.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO zone)

Within the last week, the situation in the conflict zone in the Donbas maintained a very high level of tension. Thus, the average intensity of shelling of the positions of the ATO forces and peaceful settlements was up to 80 times per day, including using heavy weapons, which has led to an increase in the number of losses among Ukrainian military and civilian casualties. The most difficult situation was near Svetlodarsk arc (first of all Horlivka), Donetsk, Mariupol and Avdiivka.

At the same time, there were signs of the enemy's preparations for a possible resumption of an offensive. In particular, the evidence for this was Russia's increasing supplies of armored vehicles, artillery, ammunition and fuel to Russian-terrorist forces in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Of particular note is the concentration and accumulation of armored vehicles in Rostov region. Besides, preparations are being made to counter the possible deployment of the OSCE Armed Police Mission in the Donbas. Appropriate exercises on this theme, with participation of pro-Russian activists-provocateurs and mercenaries, were held in Luhansk.

As before, these Russia's actions were aimed at forcing Ukraine to fulfill Russia's terms of “settlement” of the situation in the Donbas. These terms were once again confirmed during a telephone conversation between Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S. Lavrov and the acting OSCE Chairman — Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, F-W. Steinmeier and include the following: Ukraine's agreeing to recognize the “DPR” and “LPR” and a direct dialogue with them.

Apart from this, Moscow has applied new forms of political pressure on Ukraine. According to Russian media, the “DPR” has collected more than 300 thousand signatures of local residents under the petition to the UN Security Council about “Ukraine's violation of the Minsk Agreements”. At the same time, the leaders of the “DPR” and “LPR” have voiced new threats of the possibility of holding elections in the breakaway republics without agreeing with Ukraine. They have also expressed readiness “to give a harsh response” if Ukraine introduces a martial law in the country.

In order to gain the control of the “DPR” and to make its actions more anti-Ukrainian, “the first deputy prime minister” of the self-proclaimed republic has been appointed V. Antyufeev who actually ran the Russian special (“hybrid”) operations in Latvia, Georgia and Moldova (in particular, from 1999 to 2012 he held the position of the “minister of state security” of the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniester Moldovan Republic).

At the same time, the socio-economic situation in the breakaway republics in the East of Ukraine is becoming more complex and causes activation of protest moods among the local population. July 19, 2016, a group of businessmen held a meeting near the city administration building in Horlivka under the slogan “Power — to the people!” In the course of this campaign, the protesters demanded from the occupying authorities of the “DPR” to reduce taxes to the levels used in the non-occupied territory of Ukraine. Besides, in Donetsk and Horlivka there have been several actions against the deployment of the militants' artillery positions near the residential areas. The actions were dispersed by militants by force.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

The main problem of the Crimea remains the difficult economic situation in the Peninsula. In particular, this concerns Russia's being unable to satisfy the Crimea's energy needs by supplying gas and oil from Russia. In view of this, the Russian side is expanding the scale of illegal mining of energy resources on Ukraine's sea shelf near the Crimean Peninsula. This activity is related to the RF's continuing illegal drilling on the sea shelf of Ukraine, which is a gross violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Law of Ukraine “On the Exclusive (Maritime) Economic Zone of Ukraine.” Thus, in July 2016, to develop the Golitsyn gas field in the exclusive (maritime) economic zone of Ukraine they used the self-lifting drilling rig “Sivash”, furtively captured by Russia in the GAO “Chernomorneftegaz” in 2014 during the occupation of the Crimea.

At the same time, taking into consideration the possibility of social unrest due to the complexity of the economic problems in the Crimea, the Russian Federation's leadership takes measures to strengthen its power in the Peninsula. In particular, July 18, 2016 Russian President V. Putin has once again changed a number of heads of law enforcement agencies of the Crimea. Besides, there began again “cleansing” of the personnel of the law enforcement agencies of the Crimea.

Repressions against opponents of Putin's regime on the Crimean Peninsula continue. July 20, 2016 the controlled by Russia Crimean Supreme Court extended until October the term of imprisonment of three main defendants in the case of “February 26” (representatives of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars — the organizers of the protests in February 2014 against Russia's occupation of the Peninsula).

 

2.3. Other Aspects of the Russian Federation's Actions against Ukraine and the West

Russia's leadership has been attempting to counter international pressure on Moscow over the annexation of the Crimea. July 20, 2016 the Russian Federation's government decided to introduce counter-sanctions against six countries (Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, Montenegro, Norway and Liechtenstein), which had supported the Council of Europe's actions to extend the “Crimean package” of sanctions against Russia until June 23, 2017.

At the same time against the background of the intensified fighting in the Donbas, Russia's provocations against NATO countries continue. In particular, on July 20-21, 2016 the corvette “Boikiy” and the landing craft “Denis Davydov” of the RF Baltic Fleet provocatively demonstrated their military activities near the sea border of Latvia.

 

III. Ukraine and Its Allies and Partners

3.1. International organizations

UN. July 20, 2016 the Organization's Mission on Human Rights made public a report, in particular, on the situation in the East of Ukraine. According to the UN experts' conclusions, the amnesty for militants in the Donbas cannot be extended to persons involved in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Besides, the amnesty is not permitted in cases where it would threaten the lives of victims or violate their rights.

The European Union. Despite some spread of pro-Russian sentiments in some EU countries, the European Union's leadership demonstrates the immutability of its position with regard to Ukraine. The above-mentioned was confirmed during the meeting of Prime Minister of Ukraine V. Hroysman with President of the European Commission J-C. Juncker, President of the European Council D. Tusk and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs F. Mogherini on the 19-20 of July 2016.

European officials gave a positive assessment of the course of reforms in Ukraine. At this, they expressed the EU's intention to continue assisting Ukraine in the process of the latter's European integration. Thus, the main priority of the European Union was called the completion of the ratification process of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. A hope was expressed for an opportunity to simplify the visa regime between the EU and Ukraine already this autumn.

Besides, the EU's leaders confirmed their plans to extend sanctions against Russia to its full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Attention was also focused on the impossibility of holding elections in the occupied territories of Ukraine until the end of hostilities in the Donbas. Along with this, the EU acknowledged the worsening of the situation in the Crimea and agreed on the need to involve the European Union to develop a strategy of demilitarization and de-occupation of the Peninsula.

OSCE. July 20, 2016, the report of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission on the situation in the East of Ukraine, gave evidence of Russia's direct involvement in intensifying the armed conflict in the Donbas. The report mentioned the fact of the systematic delivery of ammunition to the front line from Russia.

In his turn, the US Permanent Representative to the OSCE, Ambassador D. Bayer accused Russia of its next blatant lies about the terrorists' allowing the international observers' full access to the uncontrolled by Ukraine territories in the Donbas.

NATO. In an article for The Wall Street Journal, NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg confirmed the Alliance's position on the recognition of Russia and Islamic terrorists the greatest threat to the Alliance. In support of this, he mentioned Russia's actions for the annexation of the Crimea and organization of the armed conflict in the Donbas, as well as Russia's provocations against NATO member-countries. All this makes the Alliance take most appropriate measures in terms of strengthening the collective security since the end of the “cold war”.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. July 18, 2016, the National Congress of the US Republican Party (RP) adopted a program, which contains a call to continue supporting Ukraine and to assist our State in reforming its defence sector to NATO standards, as well as to increase pressure on Russia. At this, Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine was called the greatest challenge to Europe since the end of the “cold war”. At the same time, at the demand of the US presidential candidate from the RP D. Trump, from the program was ruled out the possibility of giving lethal weapons to Ukraine.

In its turn, on July 19, 2016, the US Department of State expressed its deep concern over the intensification of hostilities and increased number of victims in the conflict zone in the Donbas. Taking this into consideration, the development of the situation around Ukraine has become one of the main topics of the talks of the US Secretary of State J. Kerry with the new British Foreign Minister B. Johnson on 20 July, 2016 and with Foreign Minister of Germany F-W. Steinmeier, on 21 July, 2016. The parties coordinated their positions on assistance to Ukraine and on implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

The United Kingdom. In her first speech in the Parliament, the new British Prime Minister T. May admitted existence of the real threat posed by the Russian Federation to the United Kingdom and other European countries. With this in mind, T. May spoke in favor of the need to maintain nuclear weapons in the UK, as an integral part of its security and defence.

T. May's position was supported by the British Parliament, which decided to modernize the country's nuclear forces. The corresponding program (total cost of 31 billion pounds (41.4 billion US dollars) includes construction of three new submarines equipped with modernized ballistic nuclear missiles of the “Trident” type.

Poland. Against the background of the positive attitude of the majority of Western countries to Ukraine a significant problem for our country can be a possible complication of the Polish-Ukrainian relations due to the adoption (on 22 July, 2016) by Poland's Parliament of the resolution declared July 11 “the Day of Remembrance of Poles, victims of the genocide committed by the UPA”. The basis of this resolution was the project of the Law and Justice ruling party. It points out that the crime took place in the years 1943-1945.

According to experts' preliminary estimates, the unilateral actions of the Polish Parliament actually “play into the hands” of Moscow (it is quite possible that they were provoked by it!) and undermine Ukraine's strategic relations with Poland — the main conductor of Ukraine's interests in the EU and NATO and its reliable advocate in the West.

 

IV. Other Important Trends and Developments, Concerning Ukraine's National Interests

A complication of the economic situation in Russia as a result of Western sanctions leads to strengthening of protest moods among the population of the country. In particular, July 18, 2016, due to delays in payment of wages for 2014 and 2015, hunger strike was announced by a group of workers of the Steel Producing Plant in Sverdlovsk region of the Russian Federation. In turn, the trade union of the public sector employees of Trans-Baikal has warned local authorities on the preparation of a general strike in the region. All in all, during the year the debt in payment of wages in Russia grew by 15 %, namely from 3.3 to 3.8 billion rubles.

Exacerbation of social problems in the Russian Federation also leads to an increase in crime rates in the country. Thus, in the first half of 2016 in Russia, almost 1.2 million crimes were conducted and resulted in the loss of more than 200 billion rubles. More than half of them had economic motives, including fraud and the theft of other people's property.

In view of the above-mentioned trends, the Russian Federation's leadership searches for additional sources to cover the country's state budget deficit. In July 2016, the Russian Ministry of Finance proposed to maintain the increased duties for the mining enterprises in oil and gas industry of the RF.

In the past year, as such a tax, 200 billion rubles were withdrawn from Russian oil companies, and from “Gazprom” — 100 billion rubles, which was called the “single action”. At the same time, experts predict that if this burden on the “Gazprom” continues, already in 2017, it can completely lose its income and finish the year with a loss.

Worsening of the economic situation is also seen in Russia's partner countries from the Eurasian Economic Union. According to the Belarus National Statistics Committee, in the first half of the year Belarus' GDP decreased by 2.5 %, industrial production and trade fell by 1.6 %, investments into fixed assets decreased by 14.9 %, while the real incomes of the population dropped by 7 % (the worst figure since mid-90s). According to experts, the reason for this is the negative impact from the economic problems in Russia, which requires from Belarus to diversify its external relations.

Moreover, the Putin regime's policy causes negative reaction of Moscow's other partners in the post-Soviet space. In particular, on July 21, 2016, Tajikistan's leadership banned printing and distribution in the country of the Russian newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda” for the “propaganda of chauvinism and ideas of the “Russian world”.

 

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

In the nearest future, the main factor to influence the situation around Ukraine will be the consequences of the above-mentioned events, related to the intensification of terrorism and extremism. Thus, we should expect further incidents of all sorts and scales, as a continuation of the wave of violence, which spread last week.

In particular, according to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Germany T. Maiziere, Germany could become a target for terrorist attacks by Islamist “lone wolves” and other extremists. According to the Head of the German Ministry of the Internal Affairs, there may be attacks similar to the Afghani man's attack against passengers of the train in Bavaria. Similar forecasts are being given by representatives of special services of other countries.

All this in the future will distract the attention of the leading countries from key international problems to issues of internal security. An example of this is the decision of France's leadership after the terrorist attack in Nice on the recruitment of 30 thousand reservists to prevent new manifestations of terrorism.

The above-mentioned situation will be used by Russia for its own purposes, especially for realization of its interests regarding Ukraine. Thus, in the situation of the world community's growing concern with the issues of terrorism and extremism, V. Putin's regime may resort to organizing loud provocations in Ukraine, including with human victims.

Due to this, Moscow will try to prove to the United States, the EU and the West in general, the “chronic inability” of the Ukrainian leadership to ensure stability in the country. In turn, this will be used as proof of Kyiv's “responsibility” for the conflict in the Donbas and therefore “no reasons” for maintaining Western sanctions against Russia.

This opinion will be purposefully imposed by Russia on pro-Russian political forces and business circles in Western countries. In particular, after the murder of the journalist P. Sheremet, the leaders of a number of pro-Russian and financially dependent on the Kremlin political forces in Italy called on the United States, the EU and NATO to pay greater attention to the “deterioration of the situation with human rights in Ukraine”, and also “to restore relations with Russia”.

 

5.2. Prospects for the Development of Events in the Conflict Zones of Ukraine and Around It

In the context of the above-mentioned Moscow's approaches, Russia quite possibly can intensify hostilities in the Donbas. At this, it will intensify firing of the ATO forces' positions and peaceful settlements on the Ukrainian side, and residential areas of towns and cities controlled by militants. All this will be used by Russia as an additional factor of pressure on Ukraine and discrediting it in the eyes of the West by shifting onto it the “responsibility” for the violation of the Minsk Agreements.

At the same time, in response to NATO's decision to strengthen its military presence in the Black Sea region, on 31 July 2016, as part of the celebration of the Russian Navy Day, there will be a massive demonstration of the RF military force in the Crimea. To this end, in the festivities in Sevastopol will participate more than 20 warships and boats of the Black Sea Fleet, 10 auxiliary vessels, as well as up to 50 pieces of equipment of coastal defence troops. A new frigate “Admiral Grigorovich”, modern small missile ships “Serpukhov” and “Zelyonyi Dol”, diesel-electric submarines “Novorossiysk” and “Rostov-na-Donu” will be presented for the first time. The celebration is expected to be attended by Russian President V. Putin and Defence Minister S. Shoigu.

Of particular note is a large-scale preparations (which has already started from June 1, 2016) for (September 2016) the strategic command-staff exercises of the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces “Caucasus-2016”, with participation of the RF Black Sea Fleet as a whole.

 

Conclusions

Thus, the series of resonant acts of extremism and terrorism, which took place within the last two weeks, confirmed the high level of urgency of the threat to global and European security, but also created new risks and challenges for Ukraine, the EU, the USA/NATO and in general, for Western and post-Soviet countries.

There is no doubt that all these events are purposefully used by Russia to implement its ideas and plans against the background of its armed aggression against Ukraine and confrontation with the West, in order to intimidate western countries' population with the grown level of extremism and, accordingly, to put pressure on their leaders (first of all of France and Germany), as well as to distract the West's attention from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in the Donbas and the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea.

Under these circumstances, a number of independent western experts not without reason have expressed an opinion about the possibility of Russia's preparations to unleash a third world war. However, despite the existence of such problems and real threats, international organizations and Western countries — our partners continue to support Ukraine in its liberation struggle against Putin's Russia.

 

www.reliablecounter.com