August 1, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 9/07

 

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

(July 25-31, 2016)

 

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

Last week's main factor influencing the development of the situation in Ukraine and relations of our country with the West was the events associated with Russia's resonant provocation within the organization of the so-called “sacred procession” of pilgrims of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate.

It was an actual rehearsal of the scenario of a large-scale destabilization of the situation in Ukraine, which is scheduled for the end of summer-autumn of this year. At this stage, the tasks  of Moscow's actions were training for organizing protests in the current political situation in Ukraine, checking the determination of the Ukrainian leadership's activities and the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies' ability to combat anti-state demonstrations in the country, introducing the potential for conflict into the society of our State, as well as discrediting the Ukrainian government before the world community.

Thus, the problems that arouse around the “sacred procession” (including the actions of law enforcement bodies of Ukraine to control the course of the event, the facts of detection of explosive devices on the route of the pilgrims, the cases of individual collisions) were presented by Russian politicians and the media as proof of the “authoritarian and anti-popular character of the leadership of Ukraine”, as well as a manifestation of the “civil conflict in Ukraine”. Besides, in some cases, the “procession” was called “a demonstration of the Donbas population's negative attitude to Kyiv's policy”. Similar estimates were given also by individual pro-Russian politicians and media of some Western countries.

All of this was presented in the same context with new manifestations of terrorism and extremism in a number of countries, which included: the shooting at a nightclub in the US city of Fort Myers (Florida); terrorist attack in the Iraqi town of Al Khalis July 25; undermining by a suicide bomber of a car near the military base of the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia; taking and killing hostages in the church of Rouen in France (Normandy) 26 July, as well as the double attack in Syria on 27 July, 2016.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO zone)

The situation in the ATO zone remained without significant changes and was characterized by continued intensive shelling of the positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and peaceful settlements by the Russian-terrorist forces.

Besides, the enemy's reconnaissance and sabotage groups and their snipers continued their actions. At the same time, there were signs of Russia's continuing its preparations for further activation of combat actions in the East of Ukraine. Evidence of this was arrival in the occupied territory of Ukraine of additional heavy weapons from Russia. Quite exemplary was the RF Interior Ministry's considering simplification of procedures for admission of refugees to Russia. In particular, they are working out an algorithm of the RF public authorities’ actions in case of emergency and mass arrival of individuals from foreign countries. All this is linked with expecting a “second wave of refugees from the Donbas to Russia”.

At the same time, the socio-economic situation in the “DPR” and “LPR” continues to becoming more complicated. For example, in Donetsk, Horlivka, Makiyivka and several other cities in the occupied regions of Ukraine there took place  regular protests of local entrepreneurs with the demand to cancel the new law on the taxation of small and medium businesses. According to the entrepreneurs, raising taxes and introduction of additional bureaucratic procedures actually make their business activity.

Against this background, July 27, 2016, in Minsk, there was a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group. The main attention was paid to discussing modality of the elections in the Donbas; the demarcation line and withdrawal of troops; restoration of the damaged infrastructure; exchange of hostages and prisoners.

The Ukrainian side expressed its concern over the aggravation of the armed conflict in the Donbas and the militants' shelling of the OSCE unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Besides, Ukraine has once again raised the question of the return under its control of the eastern section of the state border and admission to it of Representatives of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

Only some agreements (on the resumption of the railway traffic management system and restoration of electrical networks) were achieved by the end of the negotiations. Other problematic issues remained without any solution.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

In the situation of significant problems in the Crimea and around it, the Russian Federation's leadership takes drastic measures to strengthen its control over the situation in the Peninsula. Thus, on 28 July, 2016, the RF President V. Putin signed a decree on liquidation of the Crimean Federal District as a separate unit, and the Crimea’s becoming part of the Southern Federal District of Russia. Besides, were relieved from office the President's Representative in the Crimean Federal District O. Belaventsev (appointed Representative of the RF President in the North Caucasian Federal District) and the “governor” of Sevastopol S. Menyailo (appointed Representative of the Russian Federation's President in the Siberian Federal District). Sevastopol's government has also been dismissed.

Proceeding from the interests of Russia in regard to the Crimea, the reasons for such decisions are as follows: to create a legal basis to prevent the return of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine; deepening the integration of the Crimea into Russia; final liquidation of the possibility the local authorities' taking any decision not agreed with the Kremlin. Besides, it is believed that the liquidation of the Crimea's status of a separate entity of the Russian Federation, will give the Russian side additional opportunities to counter Western sanctions against Crimean enterprises.

All this creates a new ground for strengthening Russia's positions in the Crimea and excluding the Crimean issue from the negotiation process. At the same time, V. Putin's regime has actually eliminated the foundations of the Russian ideology in the Crimea, which the Kremlin had been implementing there for 25 years and which had been providing for the maximum autonomy of the Crimean Peninsula. This ideology has become the basis of belief of a whole generation of the Crimean citizens which fact is now unlikely to remain without consequences.

In view of this, the Russian Federation's leadership shows special attention to solving the economic problems of the Crimean Peninsula. Last week, the Crimea was visited by the RF Prime Minister D. Medvedev, who presented the program for the development of transport connections in the Peninsula. According to D. Medvedev, this year the government will allocate additional 5 billion rubles for the purpose.

At the same time, Russia continues actions to demonstrate “the international recognition of the Peninsula's being part of Russia”. July 29-31, 2016, at Moscow’s invitation, a delegation of French parliamentarians visited the Crimea and took part in the celebration of the Day of the Russian Navy. The delegation was headed by the Deputy of the National Assembly of France from “Republicans”, ex-Minister of Transport Thierry Mariani.

 

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

As part of counteracting the pressure from western countries, V. Putin's regime continues its policy of provoking separatism in their territories. Thus, a conference of the leaders of separatist movements (from the USA and EU included) is planned to be held in Moscow at the beginning of August. The conference will be also attended by representatives of the “DPR” and “LPR”, which fact once again confirms the Kremlin's direct involvement in the organization of the armed conflict in the Donbas and shows the Kremlin's intentions to spread “hybrid” chaos to Europe.

At the same time, the Russian Federation’s continues demonstrating force on the Western strategic direction. According to the RF Defence Minister S. Shoigu, within the last three years, Russia has formed a powerful grouping of troops on its southern flank, equipped with modern weapons. Thus, in the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces there have been created four new divisions, nine brigades (including two brigades equipped with “Iskander-M” systems) and 22 regiments, plus a self-contained group of forces deployed in the Crimea. This group (as well as the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla of the Russian Federation) is armed with more than four thousand new and upgraded models of weapons, including coastal missile systems “Bastion” and “Bal”, submarines and missile boats with modern cruise missiles “Kalibr”, anti-aircraft missile systems S-300V, S-400, “Buk-M2” and missile and gun complexes “Pantsyr-C1”. S. Shoigu explained all this by Russia's reaction to NATO's growing military presence in Central and Eastern Europe, and by the current situation in Ukraine.

At the same time, Russia continued provocations in the Black Sea region. In particular, on July 26, within the framework of reconnaissance of the multinational exercises “Sea Breeze 2016”, two ships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation carried out a provocative approach to the territorial waters of Ukraine. In turn, according to the Ministry of Defence of Bulgaria, in July 2016, Russian military aircrafts more than ten times violated the country's airspace.

Army 2016July 30, 2016 the Russian Army began international exercise-games “Army 2016”, held at the training sites of the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, as well as in the waters of the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. Military units from 19 countries — Russia's partners (which have their own disagreements with the West, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, China, Iran, Pakistan and Venezuela) participate in these exercises. A feature of these trainings was holding of a training at the training complex “Rayevskiy” near Novorossiysk (i.e. close to the conflict zone in the Donbas), involving units of the 7th Air Assault Mountain Division (Novorossiysk), which had participated in the occupation of the Crimea, and in combat actions in the East of Ukraine. This way Russia is demonstrating support for its positions from a number of countries, which is crucial for it within the framework of the confrontation with the US and NATO.

S. Shoigu's statement and the above-mentioned exercises are seen in Russia as a final recognition of Ukraine as its strategic enemy, as well as another warning to Kyiv on the need to fulfill Russian conditions of “settlement” of the situation in the Donbas.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

NATO. July 28, 2016 the NATO leadership confirmed its consistent position not to recognize the Crimea's becoming part of Russia and condemned the Russian Federation's military activities in the Peninsula. Besides, it laid on Russia the responsibility for the deterioration of the situation with human rights in the Crimea, especially where it comes to discrimination of the Crimean Tatars.

OSCE. The OSCE's position regarding the situation around Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is very contradictory.

Thus, according to US Ambassador to the OSCE D. Bayer, any talks with Russia on European security must begin with a question about the Crimea. He also acknowledged Ukraine's fulfillment of most of the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, according to D. Bayer, bringing the OSCE Armed Police Mission into the Donbas is possible only after stabilization of the situation in the conflict zone.

In his turn, Deputy Chairman of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in the Donbas A. Hug blamed for the violence in the Donbas both Russia and Ukraine.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

Leading Western countries continue demonstrating support for Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia. However, harmful for our State is the position of some politicians and political forces that actually support the interests of the Russian Federation.

The USA. According to US Ambassador to Ukraine John Pyatt, under any conditions, the main principle of American policy will be support for Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity. In this regard the United States will continue putting pressure on Russia, as well as assisting in strengthening the Armed Forces of Ukraine and bringing them to NATO standards.

J. Pyatt's statement was confirmed by a Representative of the US State Department, John Kirby. According to him, the United States will not lift sanctions against Russia until Moscow ends its occupation of the Crimea. Besides, he expressed the USA's concern about the increased Russian military presence on the border of Ukraine and in the Crimea. In the opinion of the US leadership, this does not meet Moscow's commitments to reduce violence in Ukraine. He also pointed out inadmissibility of changes of borders in Europe.

RQ-11B RavenAs part of practical implementation of the US policy of support to Ukraine, last week the USA gave Ukraine the next batch of non-lethal weapons, namely: 24 reconnaissance UAVs. There are plans to pass over to Ukraine a number of other technical means of reconnaissance and communications (including counter-battery radars).

At the same time, on July 26 in Laos, as part of the Association of South-East Asia took place (the second within ten days) meeting of US Secretary of State J. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov. They discussed the situation around Ukraine and Syria. The parties agreed to “move from the statement of the existing problems to development of road maps for their resolving”.

However, a negative factor for Ukraine and its European partners is the improvement of the election rating of the US presidential candidate from the Republican Party D. Trump, who once again is ahead of the candidate from Democrats Hillary Clinton (48 % vs. 45 %). It is believed that D. Trump's becoming a President of the USA may lead to changes in Washington's policy towards its rapprochement with Moscow. For example, during a press conference on July 27, 2016, D. Trump expressed his intention to revise the status of the Crimea and the policy of sanctions against Russia (after that, he was immediately invited by Russia to visit the Crimea).

In this regard, US President B. Obama did not rule out the possibility of Russia's attempts to influence the course of the presidential elections in the United States in order to facilitate further growth of D. Trump's rating. In confirmation of this fact he mentioned the fact of Russian hackers’ having hacked the computer system of the US Democratic Party National Committee, the result of which was a massive leak of classified information.

Besides, B. Obama also pointed out other facts of Russia’s hacker attacks on energy and transport systems of the USA. With this in mind, he did not rule out the possibility of new sanctions against the Russian Federation.

The Netherlands. Despite the widely spread pro-Russian sentiments in the Netherlands, the government demonstrates a strong position to bring to justice the perpetrators of the terrorist attack against the aircraft Boeing-777 flight MH-17 of Malaysian Airlines, which was shot down July 17, 2014 in the sky over the occupied Donbas. July 24, 2016 the Netherlands' Prosecutor's Office opened a criminal case on this issue. The responsible for the attack are called pro-Russian terrorists, who used for their own purposes anti-aircraft missile system “Buk-1M” of Russia’s Armed Forces. After completion of the investigation, the case will be handed over to The Hague International War Crimes Tribunal.

Belgium. Openly pro-Russian are the positions of a number of political forces in Belgium. July 25, 2016 a representative of the opposition “People's Party” of Belgium A. Karkasi registered a draft resolution in parliament to lift sanctions against Russia. The need for this was justified by “Moscow's non-participation in the armed conflict in the Donbas”. Despite the “People's Party's” relatively low rating in Belgium, the appearance of the document shows Moscow’s active actions for the implementation of its “hybrid policy” in the European Union.

Germany. Resonance terrorist attacks in Germany have been used by pro-Russian political forces to undermine Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel's positions. July 29, 2016 leaders of several opposition forces, in particular of the party “Alternative for Germany,” criticized the immigration policy of the Head of the German government and urged her to resign.

Under these circumstances, even more open pro-Russian positions are demonstrated by German Foreign Minister F.-W. Steinmeier. In an interview with the German media, he expressed his thoughts about the need to improve relations with Russia and to gradually lift sanctions against it. Besides, he called for giving a “special status” to the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic, in order to prevent the Trans-Dniester conflict’s turning into a hot phase.

 

IV. Other Important Trends and Developments Relating to Ukraine’s National Interests

The USA — the Baltic Countries. In the context of implementation of its obligations to support the Baltic States, on July 25, 2016 the United States sent to Estonia 8 A-10 attack aircrafts. The aircrafts will participate in the two countries' joint Air Force exercises. The above-mentioned is part of the US plan for the US Air Force's presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States on a rotating basis (was adopted in 2014 after the beginning of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine).

Europe — Russia's Information Policy. European countries better and better understand the biased and outright deceitful nature of Russia's information actions in support of its foreign and domestic policy. This was pointed out during the EU-Russia Civil Forum held in Croatia on 25 July, 2016. During the event, the report was submitted on the start of Moscow's large-scale information war against Ukraine and its Western allies after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and organization of the armed conflict in the Donbas.

 

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

5.1. Key Events and Trends That Will Be Most Important for Ukraine

In the nearest future the main problem for Ukraine will remain Russia’s growing activity to destabilize the political and socio-economic situation in our country. Based on the analysis of the results of the “sacred procession”, Russia will plan new, more resonant, provocative and conflictive actions.

At this, Moscow will exploit the negative for Ukraine trends in the development of military-political processes in the world and Europe, particularly the intensification of terrorism and extremism, populist statements and actions of the US presidential candidate D. Trump, as well as the spread of pro-Russian sentiments in the EU countries. In particular, in this connection, we should expect Russia’s inspiring new statements by pro-Russian forces of Western countries to criticize the situation in Ukraine and the actions of the Ukrainian authorities, as well as demands to lift the sanctions against Russia and resumption of cooperation with it.

At the same time, the beginning of the summer holiday season will cause a decrease in European political forces' attention to the situation around Ukraine. It can be used by Russia as an additional favorable factor for organizing provocations in our country, especially before and during the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence.

 

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

The Russian leadership's actions to provoke internal tensions in Ukraine will be accompanied by continuation of active hostilities in the Donbas. The above-mentioned is intended to distract the attention and efforts of the Ukrainian government, as well as to exhaust of resources and to demoralize the law enforcement agencies of our State against the backdrop of organized by Moscow mass protests in Ukraine.

At the same time, within the framework of preparations for the next meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk scheduled for August 3, 2016, Russia will again put forward demands to Ukraine to recognize the “special status” of the “DPR” and “LPR”, to begin direct negotiations with them, and also to give formal approval to the local elections on their territories without any preconditions.

These demands will be voiced by Russia in the course of negotiations with the United States, Germany and France, as Ukraine’s main Western partners in the process of settlement of the conflict in the Donbas.

At the same time, August 11-12, 2016 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is planning to address the problem of the deterioration of the situation of national minorities in the Crimea. In its preliminary report, the Committee points out the existence in Ukraine of rich cultural traditions and absence of such problems before Russia’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.

 

5.3. Other Important Events which Will Influence Ukraine’s Interests and Security

August 9, 2016 Turkish President R. Erdogan is planning to visit Russia. The main topic of his talks with Russian President V. Putin will be seeking opportunities to establish relations between the two countries that got significantly worse after the destruction of the Russian Su-24 by the Turkish Air Forces on November 24, 2015. Resolving this issue is important both for Turkey and for Russia.

Thus, Ankara is hoping to get Moscow's support in the face of the deteriorating internal situation in Turkey as a result of the military coup attempt in the country. In turn, Russia hopes to strengthen its international positions, as well as to demonstrate the United States and the EU' being unable to ensure the Kremlin’s international isolation. Besides, they are going to create a joint group on implementation of the Russian project to build the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline under the Black Sea, bypassing Ukraine.

Restoration of relations between Turkey and Russia will force Ankara to ease criticism of Moscow's policy towards Ukraine and Syria. This will create additional disagreement in NATO.

Against this background, quite disturbing look the Turkish media (including the state ones)'s accusing Ukraine of relations with the rebels in Turkey. In particular, they state that in Kyiv and Odesa there are special schools where are taught the ideas of a Turkish preacher F. Gülen, whom Ankara considers the organizer of the coup attempt.

 

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