December 19, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 29/12

 

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

(December 12–18, 2016)

 

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

Last week a key event in the development of the situation around Ukraine was the EU summit at the level of heads of states of the Organization on 15 December 2016, during which a number of important for Ukraine decisions were taken.

First of all, the European Union continued the main package of political and economic sanctions against Russia in connection with its aggression against Ukraine for another six months — until July 31, 2017.

At the same time, the EU has officially recognized the positive results of Ukraine's activity to reform in order to achieve European standards and fulfill the conditions for a visa-free regime with the EU. The decision on the matter will come into force after its adoption by the European Parliament (tentatively in April 2017), and after the completion of technical procedures for the introduction of the mechanism for cancelling such a regime with the EU's partners — in case they or Ukraine have force majeure.

Besides, the EU leaders have agreed on the proposed by the Netherlands requirements for the ratification of the Hague Agreement on Association between Ukraine and the EU (includes the introduction of legally binding commitments not to grant Ukraine the EU accession guarantees, military assistance, free access to the European financial funds and to the labor market). Consideration by the Parliament of the Netherlands of the question of ratification of the Agreement between the EU and Ukraine can be expected in January or February 2017.

In general, the results of the EU summit showed the Organization's continued strong positions intended to support Ukraine and put pressure on Russia. At this, quite revealing was the fact that there were no heated debates in the EU over the issue of the extension of sanctions against the Russian Federation, as it had been before the EU summit in June this year.

However, still there are differences in the EU on those issues. In particular, Italy blocked the UK's and Poland's proposals to extend sanctions against Russia immediately for the whole year, and to introduce additional restrictions for Russia for its actions in Syria. Besides, the process of making a final decision on visa facilitation between the EU and Ukraine is once again being delayed in time, as is the ratification by the Parliament of the Netherlands of the Agreement on Association between Ukraine and the European Union.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO Zone)

As part of the continuing dialogue to stabilize the situation in the Donbas, on 12 December 2016 in a video conference there were the negotiations of the Tripartite Contact Group on the settlement of the conflict in the East of Ukraine. During the talks, the Ukrainian side drew the participants' attention to the growth of the Russian terrorist forces' shelling, in particular near Shyrokino, Avdiivka, Krasnohorivka and Stanytsya Luhanska. The above-mentioned was regarded by Ukraine as an unwillingness of leaders of the self-proclaimed republics to fulfill their obligations. Besides, Ukraine once again raised the question of opening the checkpoint in the area of Zolote which is blocked by the militants. Due to Russia's and its puppets' in the Donbas tactics of constant delaying the negotiations, no specific decisions were taken.

At the same time, the representatives of Russia and its puppets in the Donbas refused to participate in video negotiations on the exchange of hostages and prisoners of war, scheduled for December 13, 2016. By this Moscow showed its real attitude to this issue.

Against this background, in order to put pressure on Ukraine, the Russian-terrorist forces continued shelling the ATO forces' positions and civilian settlements with a peak intensity of more than 50 a day.

Starting from 5:50 on 18 December, in Svetlodarsk Arc area, after a long preparation fire with the use of heavy artillery and mortars, the Russian-occupation forces tried to shell out the Ukrainian forward units from their positions. It is in this direction that for almost a month, these attacks had been preceded by Russian-terrorist forces' provocative actions (in the form of fighting reconnaissance). The tension there does not relax, the enemy continues to build up its forces on the Svetlodarsk direction. According to intelligence reports, the enemy plans to use up to two company tactical groups, tank units, artillery and mortars. During the offensive the enemy killed six Ukrainian military servicemen, and injured 23. The enemy's losses amounted to 20 killed and more than 30 wounded. At the moment the situation is under control of our troops, but combat actions in the area of Svetlodarsk Arc continue.

Along with this, the Russian side is using other means of influence on Ukraine in order to force our country to accept Russian terms of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas. In particular, on 16 December 2016, the State Duma Deputy from the Communist Party (part of the so-called systemic opposition, controlled by the Kremlin) K. Taysayev put forward the initiative to prepare proposals to the Russian President “...to recognize the results of the referenda on independence of the DPR and LPR, if Ukraine fails to fulfill the Minsk Agreements within the next six months”.

These Russia's actions were accompanied by the Kremlin's attempts to shift off the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict in the Donbas, and to make Ukraine recognize the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas. On 14 December 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the RF S. Lavrov voiced another cynical statement about “Moscow's not being involved in the events in the Donbas” and “the DPR and LPR integration into Ukraine, as a result of which Ukraine should solve the problems of its relationship directly with them”.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

In order to strengthen Russian positions in the Crimea, Putin's regime continues sequential measures for large-scale militarization of the Crimean Peninsula. In particular, on 1st December, 2016, as part of the Coastal Defense Troops of the RF Black Sea Fleet began its work the Command (Staff) of the 32nd Army Corps (Perevalne), which is being restored in the Crimea (was disbanded in 2003 during the period of its being part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine). The Corps includes the 126th Brigade of the Coastal Defense of the RF Black Sea Fleet and several other military units.

Besides, on 1st December 2106, after the completion of the re-arming with the S-400 “Triumph”, was put on combat duty the 18th SAM Regiment (Feodosiya) of the 31st Air Defense Division (Sevastopol) of the RF Armed Forces.

In addition, measures are being taken to re-equipt the 43rd Separate Marine Attack Aviation Regiment (airfield Saky) of the Russian Federation's Black Sea Fleet with new Su-30 SM multifunctional fighters. Last week the Regiment was armed with three more aircraft of this type (since the beginning of the year — 12 units).

Decisions were also made on the deployment in the North of the Crimea in Djankoi of the f 1st Separate Battalion of the 97th Regiment, which is being restored as part of the 7th Parachute (Mountain) Division (headquarters in Novorossiysk) of the VDV (Russian Air-Born Troops — transl.) of the RF Armed Forces. Within a few years, on the basis of this Battalion, the whole Regiment (disbanded in 1997) is planned to be deployed.

Moscow's actions to militarize the Crimean Peninsula are justified by Russia by “the existing threats to the Crimea's security from Ukraine”. Thus, on 13 December 2016, during the meeting of the National Anti-terrorism Committee of the Russian Federation, Director of the FSB (Federal Security Service) A. Bortnikov voiced a “warning” about “Ukraine's preparing new terrorist attacks in the Crimea with the participation of Ukrainian state authorities and radical organizations”. At this, he reminded of “the detention by the FSB in the current year of two Ukrainian subversive groups who were planning to conduct terrorist attacks in the Crimea”.

In turn, despite the certain rapprochement with Russia, Turkey's leadership shows the immutability of its positions in relation to the Crimea. According to the statement by the representative of the Turkish Parliament E. Kyudzhet on 14 December 2016, Ankara is closely monitoring the situation in the occupied Crimean Peninsula and considers the Crimean problem the Turkish national problem. At the same time, was expressed the Turkish side's serious concern about the Russian authorities' repressions against the Crimean Tatars.

The systematic violation of the rights of Crimean Tatars by the Russian authorities have been recognized by the international human rights organization Amnesty International in the report “Crimea in the Dark. The Silencing Of Dissent”. It expressed concern about the possibility of reprisals spread to other strata of the Crimean people who disagrees with Moscow's policy.

 

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

The US and EU's actions aimed at strengthening counteracting Moscow's information influence, cause sharply negative reaction of Putin's regime, which is losing quite effective levers for the implementation of its foreign policy. At this, the Kremlin's reaction is becoming increasingly hysterical and inadequate.

Thus, December 13, 2016, Russia's Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe A. Lukashevich accused the leader of the OSCE Office on Freedom of the Media D. Mijatovic of “...reluctance to expose to public criticism the European Parliament's Resolution on Combating the Russian propaganda”. At the same time, Russia continues to shamelessly use methods of information wars (including special propaganda, subversion and cyber attacks) against a number of countries, first of all against Ukraine.

In particular, these methods are used by Russia to make a split between Ukraine and Poland — one of the main allies of our State. This is done through the so-called kresowje (nationalist) organizations in the eastern regions of Poland, which are supported and funded by Moscow. Thus, on 11 December 2016, in Przemysl, one of those organizations — “Patriotic Przemysl” — organized the “March of Eaglets” action of aggressive anti-Ukrainian orientation. These actions of Russia are in the same line with the resolution taken at the beginning of December 2016 by the RF State Duma which condemned the “Remembrance and Solidarity” Joint Declaration of the Parliaments of Ukraine and Poland.

Some independent political experts do not rule out the “hand of Moscow” in the latest developments in Poland in terms of unleashing a political crisis in the country.

At the same time, in order to “prove the illegality of the regime change in Ukraine in the spring of 2014”, and to legitimize Russia's aggression against our country, December 15, 2016, Dorogomilovo Court of Moscow began the process at the suit on the recognition of the “Revolution of Dignity” — as a coup. Given the totalitarian character of the Russian authorities, the decision on this matter will be made solely in favour of the regime of V. Putin, and will form the basis of another anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign.

Besides, last week Russia held a large-scale special operation for the implementation of computer attacks on the information networks of the state institutions and objects of Ukraine's critical infrastructure, including the Ministry of Finance, the State Treasury Service, the Ministry of Infrastructure, “Ukrzaliznytsya” and the State Aviation Service. According to experts, the aim of such actions of the Russian side is destabilization of the financial-banking and transport systems of Ukraine on the eve of the New Year.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. The EU leaders are making efforts to strengthen security in Europe in the context of the increased level of threats from the Russian Federation. December 14, 2016, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on “The implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy”. The document proposes to develop a new strategy for relations with Russia, based on the principles of nuclear deterrence, and of dialogue in the spheres of common interests, in particular in the struggle against international terrorism, countering the uncontrolled spread of nuclear weapons and the conduct of joint trade and economic activity. Besides, it points out the possibility of lifting the sanctions against Russia only in case of the Russian Federation's fulfillment of the Minsk Agreements, and even concedes introduction of new restrictions against Russia if Moscow continues violating international law.

Earlier, a group of members of the European Parliament addressed the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy F. Mogherini with warning about Russia's actions for “laundering” its money through European financial institutions with their further use for the implementation of the pro-Russian policy in Europe. At this, they proposed to introduce sanctions against those involved in such activities. This warning is associated with the upcoming elections in Germany and France, as well as the facts of Moscow's interference in the election campaign in the United States.

NATO. Deepening of the cooperation between NATO and Ukraine continues. December 16, 2016, during the conference “Ukraine-NATO”, a Resolution was adopted on the development of the Ukrainian Euro-Atlantic Platform. The Document provides for the consolidation of the efforts of the political forces in Ukraine to conduct the course of Euro-Atlantic integration of our state.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. An estimated by the US political circles, one of the main enemies of the United States is Russia, due to the increased aggression of V. Putin's regime's foreign policy and its actions against Ukraine and the Baltic countries. Thus, the American Council on Foreign Relations (non-governmental advisory body to the US State Department) has published the annual report “Preventive Priorities Survey: 2017”, according to which a military conflict between Russia and NATO countries could become a major threat in 2017.

 

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

Russia. Despite the Russian Federation's optimistic statements on the “improving situation in the country”, the financial and economic problems are getting more and more complicated in Russia. Thus, due to the lack of funds in the state budget of the Russian Federation, over the next three years the volumes of budget credits for Russian regions are planned to be decreased seven times. According to the S&P Global Ratings experts, this will put on the brink of bankruptcy about 20 Russian regions. At this, their debts on average will grow by 50 %. To date, the consolidated debt of Russian regions already is 2.2 trillion rubles, which makes the local authorities carry out further cuts in social spending.

The worsening of the situation in the regions of Russia leads to strengthening of protest moods among the Russian population and small businesses. In particular, the congress of the farmers from different regions of the RF (December 15, 2016, in Stavropol, attended by about 1.2 thousand people), decided to hold a “tractor march” to Moscow in March 2017 (when climatic conditions are favorable).

Against this background, Russian sociologists point out the downgrade of Russian President V. Putin's rating. In particular, according to the “Levada Center” Organization, since 2014 the number of Russian citizens who believed that Putin “successfully solves the problems of the country”, has decreased from 38 % to 28 %. At the same time, 29 % of respondents said their attitude to V. Putin is worse now.

Romania. According to the results of the parliamentary elections in the country, the winner was the center-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Romania, which holds moderate Euro-skeptic positions and is in favor of a more independent from the European Union policy. The second place was taken by the center-right National Liberal Party, which built its campaign rhetoric on issues of economic reforms and strengthening the struggle against corruption. The Romanian Parliament also includes the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, and the “Union of Salvation of Romania” of environmental orientation. According to some experts, based on the activity of the Representative of the SDP V. Ponta as Prime Minister until 2015, Bucharest's foreign policy can become somewhat pro-Russian.

During the elections to the Parliament of Macedonia, the most votes were won by the ruling coalitionMacedonia. During the elections to the Parliament of Macedonia, the most votes were won by the ruling coalition “Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization — Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity”. It is followed with a small margin by the opposition coalition “Social Democratic Union of Macedonia”. The third to the sixth places were taken by the Albanian parties “Democratic Union for Integration”, BESA movement, the coalition “Democratic Alliance (Albania)” and the Democratic Party of Albania. The elections put an end to protracted political crisis in Macedonia. The alignment of political forces in the country has not changed, and that will determine the largely unchanged foreign policy.

TMR. The worsening of the socio-economic situation in the breakaway republic and the failure of its authorities to solve the existing problems in the situation of a significant reduction in the volume of financial assistance from Russia have caused a loud failure of the current “President” of Trans-Dniester E. Shevchuk in the “elections” of the Head of the self-proclaimed state formation. Thus, confident victory was won by the “Speaker” of the Trans-Dniester “Parliament” V. Krasnoselskyi, who was almost twice ahead of his opponent. Independent experts believe that despite the change of power in Trans-Dniester, the breakaway republic's policy will not change — due to the pro-Russian orientation of all major political forces in Trans-Dniester. At the same time, V. Krasnoselskyi expressed readiness to intensify the dialogue with Moldova and Ukraine in order to improve conditions for the development of the TMR's economy.

 

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

The decision of the latest EU summit on the extension of sanctions against V. Putin's regime was crucial in terms of creating the preconditions for further complications of the socio-economic situation in Russia, as well as demonstration of the unity of the European Union over the Ukrainian and Russian issues, despite the results of the presidential elections in the USA. Moreover, it has created an example and a precedent for the adoption of similar solutions also by the United States in March 2017 — because of the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea. Thus, the USA's lifting the sanctions against Russia would mean Washington's refusal to lead a coherent policy with the EU, and that would undermine the whole system of the US-European relations and the USA's positions in Europe.

All this would fully meet the interests of the Putin regime, which counts exactly on such developments. Taking into consideration the above-mentioned, it is necessary to expect Moscow's concentrating its efforts on persuading the new US administration of the advisability of and need for changing its sanctions policy towards Russia. In particular, one of such steps were the negotiations of representatives of the Russian political and business circles with Advisor to the new US President K. Page on 13-15 December 2016 in Moscow. K. Page's statements have already been interpreted in Russia as “a demonstration of the USA's readiness to revise the sanctions against Russia”. In the same context, Russia interprets D. Trump's proposing the candidacy of the head of the US oil company Exxon Mobil R. Tillerson to the post of US Secretary of State, as well as the easing of sanctions against the Russian company “Rosoboronexport” for the purchase of aviation photographic equipment within the framework of the “Open Skies” Program.

At the same time, Russia will continue its actions to change the positions of the European Union's countries. In this respect, based on the current situation in the EU, Moscow's main efforts will be focused on Germany and France (taking into consideration the approach of the elections in those countries), Italy (which actually opposes the extension of sanctions against Russia), the Netherlands (which show the most “cautious” attitude to Ukraine), Greece (where you can expect another complication of the economic situation due to the limitation of the EU's financial assistance to the country), and Bulgaria (taking into consideration the election of the representative of pro-Russian forces a new President of the country).

 

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

In the Putin regime's interest, Moscow will continue its policy of delaying the process of taking key decisions for the Donbas (first of all, on the development of the “road map” for implementation of the Minsk Agreements) up to the new President of the United States D. Trump's inauguration, and his clear determining his position regarding Russia and Ukraine. At this, in order to create a positive image of Russia in the eyes of the new US leadership, the Russian side can most likely refrain from excessive provoking tensions in the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine.

However, taking into consideration the FSB Director A. Bortnikov's “warning” about “Ukraine's preparing new terrorist attacks in the Crimea”, we should not rule out the possibility of Russia's another provocation against Ukraine.

 

5.3. Other Important Events that Will Have an Impact on Ukraine's Interests and Safety

Important for Ukraine will be the results of the vote in the UN General Assembly on the Ukrainian draft resolution entitled “The Human Rights Situation in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea and the City of Sevastopol”, which recognizes Russia as the country-occupier and the Crimea and Sevastopol — as the occupied territories (the project was approved by the UN General Assembly Committee for Human Rights in November of this year).

The adoption of this resolution will cause a severe blow to the international image of Russia, will demonstrate the world's real attitude to the regime of V. Putin, and will be a strong argument in favor of the West's continuing international legal sanctions policy towards the Russian Federation.