September 5, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 14/09

 

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

(August 29-September 04, 2016)

 

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

Last week, one of the main factors of influence on Ukraine's interests was the preparation of the meetings of the leaders of Germany, France and Russian President V. Putin on the sidelines of the summit of “Big Twenty” (G20) in Hangzhou (China) September 4-5, 2016.

The main theme of the talks should be considering the situation around Ukraine in the context of determining the prospects for implementation of the Minsk Agreements as the main precondition for reducing tension in the Donbas and a possibility of easing Western sanctions against Russia.

At this, German Chancellor A. Merkel and French President F. Hollande refused to meet with V. Putin in a trilateral format, and agreed only to bilateral negotiations. This negated the Russian President's attempt to exclude Ukraine from the quadripartite “Normandy” format of negotiations and to ensure the solution of the Ukrainian question in favor of Russia without the participation of our State.

On the eve of the talks, all the parties provided their own estimates of the above-mentioned aspects concerning Ukraine. In general, Germany and France expressed their willingness for dialogue with Russia and being interested in the restoration of cooperation with it, but clearly confirmed the possibility of easing sanctions against the Russian Federation only in case if Moscow implements the Minsk Agreements. In this regard, as a confirmation of Russia's actual failure to comply with its obligations, they pointed out the trend to worsening of the armed conflict in the Donbas.

The above-mentioned principles and approaches were voiced in a number of statements and comments by the Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel and French President F. Hollande. At this, A. Merkel bluntly acknowledged the fact of the Russian troops' having been brought into the Donbas in 2014. At the same time, the leaders of Germany and France expressed their intention to continue diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in the Donbas and stressed the need for an early resumption of negotiations in the “Normandy” format.

A tougher stance towards Russia was shown by the USA. According to the US State Department, “...today there can be no question of normalization of the US-Russian relations, due to a number of fundamental problems, first of all, Moscow's provoking tensions in the Donbas and Russia's annexation of the Crimea”.

For its part, Russia rejected any involvement in the aggravation of the situation in the Donbas and shifted off to Ukraine all the responsibility for violation of the Minsk Agreements. In particular, it was stated that “Ukraine is not fulfilling its obligations” in regard to granting the “DPR” and “LPR” special statuses with their legitimization in the Constitution of Ukraine, adoption of the law on amnesty for militants and local elections in the Donbas. Besides, on the basis of Russian provocations in the Crimea, the Ukrainian leadership was accused of “leading the state terrorism policy”. At the same time, in order to avoid further undermining of Russia's international image, the Russian leadership does not exclude the possibility of a return to negotiations in the “Normandy Four” format.

Taking into consideration the fundamental differences between Western countries and Russia on the “Ukrainian issue”, the discussion in the G20 will inevitably lead to a sharp debate with the parties' mutual pressure on each other.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO Zone)

The main event in the development of the situation in the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine was an agreement on a cease-fire from September 1, 2016. The agreement was confirmed during a video conference of representatives of the Trilateral Contact Group and approved by the leaders of Germany and France as members of the “Normandy Group”.

The introduction of the “regime of silence” allowed to suspend hostilities in the Donbas, but does not exclude the possibility of renewal. Thus, despite the agreements reached, the enemy continues shelling positions of the ATO forces and peaceful settlements at an average intensity of up to 10-12 attacks per night (with small arms, grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers).

Besides, special attention should be paid to the coordination of actions of the enemy forces in the occupied territories of Ukraine and of the Russian Armed Forces in the territory of Russia. In particular, during the unannounced inspection of the Southern, Western and Central Military Districts of the RF Armed Forces, the Russian-terrorist troops (forces) in the Donbas were also simultaneously brought to a higher degree of readiness.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

The US Treasury Department has expanded the list of companies that have come under Western sanctions against Russia. For example, the US sanctions have been imposed on Russian companies that are contractors of construction of the Kerch bridge in the occupied Crimea. We are talking about the “Mostotrest” and “SGM-Bridge” companies.

At this, the sanctions against “Mostotrest” will come into force from October 1, 2016. This company until 2015 had been owned by Russian oligarchs Igor and Arkadiy Rotenberg. The “Mostotrest” currently acts as a sub-contractor of the construction of the Kerch bridge.

The ”SGM-Bridge” is a company, which is the general contractor for the construction of the bridge Kerch. It is also a “daughter” of “Stroygazmontazh”, which, in its turn, belongs to Arkadiy Rotenberg.

Besides, the US sanctions have been imposed on the enterprise “Management of Federal Roads “Taman”. The latter is a formal customer of the construction of the Kerch bridge.

Also the sanctions list includes the ship repair company “Zvezdochka” (the main office is in Severodvinsk, with a branch in Sevastopol).

The internal situation and the security situation have remained unchanged in the Crimea and around. Under V. Putin's order, the Russian Federation law enforcement agencies keep strengthening the protection of the borders of the Peninsula. In particular, they monitored the Crimea's administrative border with Kherson region, and conducted reconnaissance of the positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the mainland Ukraine with the help of helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

 

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

Against the background of the preparation of the G20 summit, Russia on a large scale continued demonstrating its military force to Ukraine and its Western partners.

Preparation for SCPE “Caucasus-2016” in the occupied CrimeaUnder V. Putin's order, in the period from August 25 to August 31, 2016, in preparation for the SCPE “Caucasus-2016”, there was an unannounced inspection of troops (forces) of the Southern, Western and Central Military Districts, as well as of the Black Sea and Northern Fleets, Aerospace Forces (VKS) and Airborne Forces of the Armed Forces of Russia. As part of the inspection, they carried out activities for bringing the Armed Forces to higher level of combat readiness, strengthening groups of troops near the borders of Ukraine and in the occupied Crimea, covering up their deployment and application of preventive strikes against the “enemy's” targets.

Thus, with the start of the inspection, higher combat readiness was introduced for the forces and means of Air Defense of the Southern Military District, and their combat capabilities were enhanced by bringing to the forward airfields the fighters Su-27 and MiG-29/MiG-29UB (including 20 planes — to the Crimea) and redeployment to operational areas of units of Air Defense and Radio- Technical Forces. They also mastered protection of the Russian airspace, interception of air targets by fighters and firing by anti-aircraft missile systems S-400 “Triumf”, C-300 “Favorit” and anti-aircraft missile and gun complexes “Pantsyr-S1”.

At the same time, the control system of war time of the Southern Military District was deployed, in particular, field command centers of the 58th and 49th Armies, as well as their subordinate formations and units. At this, they also tested modern means of closed digital and space communications.

Against this background they had been building up the grouping of the RF Armed Forces on the South-Western strategic direction.

The first echelon of reinforcement force included units of Special Task Forces Brigades of the Western and Central Military Districts, which were transported to the Southern Military District by Il-76 of the Military-Transport Aviation (at a distance of up to 1.5 thousand kilometers). Upon their arrival in the destination area, the Special Task Forces units had to fulfill reconnaissance and anti-sabotage tasks.

Besides, within the framework of the first echelon, to the advanced airfields of the Southern Military District were redeployed the planes of the front bombers Su-24, Su-25SM and Su-34 from the 4th Army of the Air Force and Air Defence. In order to receive an additional number of aircrafts in the frontal zone near the borders of Ukraine, the engineering troops of the RF Armed Forces had built a few airfields with the 2.6 km long runway.

The second echelon of reinforcement forces included units of mechanized infantry, tank, artillery and missile forces and army aviation (helicopters Mi-28N, Mi-35M and Mi-24), relocated to the Southern MD from the depths of the Russian Federation under their own power and by rail and partly by air. At this, the forces were fulfilling the task of carrying out route marches and air support for columns and areas of concentration of ground troops.

As part of counteracting the enemy's measures to disrupt the activities of the deployment of Russian troops, they worked out the tasks of air strikes on: operational and tactical reserves and reconnaissance and sabotage groups on the way of their columns moving — by army aviation helicopters; control points, artillery and rocket positions of the enemy in the tactical zone — by tactical aviation aircrafts; other important enemy targets in the operation-strategic and operational zones — by long-range (strategic) bombers Tu-160, Tu-95M and Tu-22M3 by applying conditional air strikes.

To control the actions of aviation and reconnaissance, were used aircrafts of the Airborne Early Warning and Control A-50M and A-50U, that served as airborne command posts.

The final stage of the inspection was the holding of tactical exercises of the Joint Force Grouping, with participation of units of mechanized infantry, armored and artillery brigades, radiation, chemical and biological protection, as well as engineering troops. They mastered tasks of offensive and defensive operations, as well as offshore operations in the enemy rear.

In the course of the inspection, were carried out separately exercises of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and of the grouping of Russian troops in the Crimea, which were practicing formation of ship strike and amphibious groups, amphibious assault (really — at Cape Opuk) and blocking the Strait of Kerch.

Against the single operational background of inspection of the Southern, Western and Central MD of the RF Armed Forces, there were also trainings of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and that actually demonstrated Moscow's readiness to use nuclear weapons as the “main argument” in the realization of its geopolitical interests.

After the unannounced inspection, the Russian troops have largely remained in their positions near the borders of Ukraine.

 

Grouping of AF RF around Ukraine in March, 2014All this was similar in nature to what the leadership of the Russian Federation carried out in the spring and the summer of 2014 — before and during Russia's occupation of the Crimea, as well as with Ukraine's beginning the ATO in the Donbas and the subsequent invasion of Russian troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

In fact, within the framework of this unannounced inspection, near the Ukrainian border Russia created a powerful grouping of its Armed Forces (including the Russian troops in the occupied territories of the Crimea and the Donbas) — up to 100 thousand military servicemen, which, according to military experts, is able to carry out large-scale operations against our Country as continuation of exercises “Caucasus-2016”.

 

Against this background, Moscow continued provocative activities against Ukraine. Thus, on August 27, 2016, Russia accused our government of building up “Russophobian hysteria” and “violations of international agreements to ensure the safety of foreign institutions in the territory of Ukraine”. The example of this was “…a well-planned action with the radicals' attack on the Russian Cultural Center in Ukraine”, which allegedly took place immediately after the meeting of representatives of “Rossotrudnichestvo” (one of the main Russian state structures to organize and coordinate events of the “hybrid war” against Ukraine) and Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to discuss issues of strengthening the protection of Russian institutions in Ukraine.

Besides, within the framework of the provocation around the Crimea, Russia made public a message about the alleged “security services of the “LPR” exposing the plans for redeployment of a terrorist-sabotage group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine from the territory of the LPR to the Crimean Peninsula via Russia”.

At the same time, Russia once again called into question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities. August 28, 2016, Advisor to the Russian President S. Glazyev made a statement on “...the illegality of the Ukrainian leadership, which came to power in a coup in 2014”. Based on this, he spoke about “...the illegitimacy of all the decisions of the President and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”. Formally, S. Glazyev's statement was a response to the announced to him by Prosecutor General of Ukraine suspicion of crimes against the national security of Ukraine (based on SBU’s records of S. Glazyev's talks with the Director of the Institute of CIS K. Zatulin for organizing riots in the Crimea, Odessa and Zaporizhzhya in 2014). However, given the authoritarian nature of power in Russia, S. Glazyev could make such a statement only with. personal approval by V. Putin, who has repeatedly expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the leadership of Ukraine.

All this is aimed at putting pressure on Ukraine and Europe with the aim of forcing them to agree to Russian conditions of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas, as well as discrediting our State to the international community to change the USA and EU's sanctions policy towards Russia. At the same time, the Kremlin's provocations against Ukraine, as well as demonstration of doubts about “the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government” can be used by Russia as a basis for a military attack on our State.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

Russia's actions for the demonstration of military force to Europe and Ukraine have caused significant concern of international organizations and Western countries that are willing to provide an adequate response to Moscow.

 

3.1. International Organizations

NATO. During his visit to Romania on the 29th of August 2016, the Deputy Secretary General of NATO A. Vershbow pointed out the increase in the number of exercises and unannounced inspections of the RF Armed Forces held by Russia without prior notification of other countries, as provided for by international agreements. According to the NATO representative, the said Moscow's actions raise instability in the region and lead to a further deterioration of relations between Russia and the Alliance. Given this, NATO will continue efforts to strengthen its military presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

The European Union. Problems of growing threats to European security from Russia, as well as the aggravation of the situation in the Donbas became the subject of a special meeting of Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and Poland (“Weimar Triangle”) on 30th August, 2016. As a result of the discussion, they adopted the Joint Declaration on the Future of Europe, which, in particular, provides for a support for the Strategy to Stabilize the Eastern and Southern Regions of the EU. In this regard, it is recognized needed to strengthen cooperation between the countries of the European Union in the security sphere, and to contribute to strengthening NATO's European potential. Besides, the members of the “Weimar Triangle” called on the EU leadership to strengthen its support of Ukraine in the stabilization of the situation in the Donbas.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA–the EU. According to the coordinator of the US State Department on sanctions D. Fried, the United States of America and the European Union have prepared a joint action plan for if Russia carries out a large-scale invasion in Ukraine. In particular, this plan provides for tougher sanctions against the Russian Federation. Besides, it is planned to take a number of other measures that have not been disclosed. According to D. Fried, “...if it comes to the worst, Ukraine will not be left alone face to face with the most armed and aggressive regime of the world”.

In support of this position, September 1, 2016, the USA imposed sanctions against Russian companies engaged in the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, a number of subsidiaries of “Gazprom”, and representatives of the occupying authorities of the Crimea, “DPR” and “LPR”.

The United Kingdom. Despite the plans for country's exit from the EU, Great Britain's leadership maintains a strong position in supporting the European Union's policy in relation to Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. In particular, on the 29th of August 2016, the UK Foreign Ministry urged Russia to return the Crimea to Ukraine and accused Moscow of human rights violations in the Crimean Peninsula.

This position was confirmed by British Foreign Minister B. Johnson during his meeting with Foreign Minister of Ukraine P. Klimkin September 1, 2016.

In turn, the British portal Bellingcat published the results of the investigation with proof of no less than ten thousand Russian soldiers' participation in combat operations against Ukraine in the period of 2014-2015.

 

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

Against the background of Moscow's armed provocations in the Donbas, there is further complication of the socio-economic situation in the neighboring regions of Russia. Evidence of this is the growing number of participants of protests in the Russian city of Gukovo and in a number of other settlements, due to the unresolved problems with delays of wages to the miners of “Kingkoul” (”Kingcoal”). At this, the protesters have already put forward demands for the resignation of the Governor of the Rostov region, as well as of local mayors and public prosecutors.

 

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 short to medium term the main factor influencing the development of the situation around Ukraine will be the result of the talks between the leaders of the USA, Germany, France, and Russian President V. Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China.

Thus, if the leading Western countries make concessions to Russia, Moscow will inevitably put forward to Ukraine tough and uncompromising (in fact, ultimatum) demands to implement the Russian conditions of the “settlement” of the situation in the Donbas. Such demands will be accompanied by the intensification of fighting in the Donbas, as well as measures of the Russian Federation's demonstrating force near Ukrainian borders, in particular through the SCPE “Caucasus-2016”. At this we can't exclude Russia's conduct of offensive operations against Ukraine — from local to the much larger scale ones.

If the United States, Germany and France demonstrate firmness of position towards Russia and confirm their readiness to maintain and strengthen the sanctions against it, Putin's regime will make certain compromises in terms of implementation of certain provisions of the Minsk Agreements, in particular on the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact. At the same time, Moscow will retain its main goals with regard to Ukraine and will keep trying to achieve them on favorable terms.

If the Western partners of Ukraine are limited to calls on Russia to fulfill the Minsk Agreements and regular warnings about the possibility of the continuation of political and economic sanctions, the situation around our State will retain the current “permanent indefinite” nature. In this case Russia will continue its strategy of exhausting Ukraine and provoking instability in our Country to create the conditions for changing the Ukrainian authorities. At the same time Russia will resort to periodic aggravation of the situation in the Donbas as a means of pressure on Ukraine and its Western partners.

In the nearest future indicators of the development of the situation according to one of the above-mentioned scenarios will be: peculiarities of the “Caucasus-2016” exercises and its coverage in the media; possible changes in the attitudes and actions of Russia and the Western countries with regard to Ukraine; prospects for the resumption of negotiations in the “Normandy Format” and their results; development of the situation in the conflict zone in the Donbas.

 

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

Based on previous experience, the achievement of agreements on ceasefire in the conflict zone in the Donbas, will not stop Russia from continuing its armed aggression against Ukraine. In fact, the temporary suspension of military actions (especially of the provocative shelling of the positions of Ukrainian troops and local settlements) by Russian-terrorist troops (forces) should be seen only as Moscow's attempt to improve its image and demonstrate a sort of “good will”. In this regard, as mentioned above, further development of the situation in the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine will depend on the results of the meeting of the leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Russia.

 

5.3. Other Important Events that Will Influence Ukraine's Interests and Security

Next week the European Union is going to hold a series of events that will be important for the national interests of our State in terms of its European integration, and weakening of Russia's ability to achieve its goals with regard to Ukraine.

Thus, September 5, 2016, a meeting is scheduled of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament for the second reading of the report by the Deputy Mary Gabriel on the liberalization of the visa regime between the EU and Ukraine. In case of a positive decision on this issue, the visa regime can be simplified in early 2017. However, internal problems in Ukraine remain an obstacle on the way to this.

For the next week there is also planned a meeting of the Ambassadors of the EU member countries on the issue of continuing targeted sanctions against Russian citizens involved in the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. In particular, this applies to visa restrictions and “freezing” of accounts of 146 people and 37 companies.

 

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