December 26, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 30/12

 

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

(December 19–25, 2016)

 

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

Despite Russia's attempts to disguise and justify its actions against Ukraine, in the whole the international community is on the side of our State and maintains a negative attitude to V. Putin's regime's policy. For example, December 19, 2016, the General Assembly of the United Nations supported the Ukrainian draft resolution entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”. The Document for the first time at the official level of the United Nations calls the Russian Federation an occupier country and confirms the demands to Moscow to terminate the harassment of the Crimean population and to turn free all the illegally detained persons.

The UN General Assembly's Resolution complements the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of October 12, 2016 “Political Consequences of the Russian Aggression in Ukraine”, which actually calls Russia an aggressor country. These documents are an important factor in strengthening Ukraine's international positions in its confrontation with Russia, undermine V. Putin's regime's authority, as well as provide a basis for strengthening the international community's pressure on the Russian Federation. According to independent experts, recognizing Russia a country-aggressor, an occupier and a party to the conflict gives the opportunity to raise questions about depriving the Russian Federation of the right to vote in the UN Security Council, and bringing it to the International Court of Justice (Tribunal) of the United Nations.

Implementation of such a possibility will be facilitated by the UN's decision to establish a special tribunal which since the beginning of 2017 will begin consideration of Ukraine's claim against Russia due to the Putin regime's annexation of the Crimea.

In turn, the support to our State by the European Union was confirmed by the Third meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council December 19, 2016. At the meeting, the EU's leaders showed the growing confidence in Ukraine that helped specify and translate into action the European Union's plans to provide assistance to our state.

Thus, during the meeting, the representatives of the EU confirmed Ukraine's significant progress in political, economic, legal and other reforms in the country, as well as in the fight against corruption in the Ukrainian public sector. On this basis the European Investment Bank provided a financial assistance package to Ukraine, including: 600 million Euros — for the implementation of targeted investment programs (cheap loan); 366 million Euros — for the development of cross-border infrastructure, including modernization of border crossings (repayable subsidy); 104 million Euros — to reform the civil service (repayable subsidy).

The EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, F. Mogherini focused attention on the positive results of the creation of a free trade zone between Ukraine and the European Union. Evidence of this was called the growth of trade turnover between Ukraine and the EU by 6 % over the past 10 months — up to 41 % in the total volume of Ukraine's foreign trade. As a result, Ukraine's economic dependence on Russia has decreased, and now makes only 8 % of the foreign trade balance of our country.

At the same time, F. Mogherini stressed the need for a speedy transition from creation of the legislative base of reforms in Ukraine to their practical implementation. She also mentioned the European Investment Bank's plans to strengthen the monitoring of the spending of the allocated funds — from participation in the development of projects to evaluation of the results of their implementation.

Special attention of the meeting was paid to the development of the situation in the Donbas. F. Mogherini acknowledged the fact of growing tensions in the conflict zone, confirmed the EU's strong position on supporting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and voiced Brussels' intentions to continue diplomatic efforts to implement the Minsk Agreements.

Sticking to clear and uncompromising positions with regard to Ukraine and Russia was also shown by the Alliance's leadership at the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on 19 December, 2016. During the discussion of the situation around our State, Secretary General of the Alliance J. Stoltenberg supported the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and accused Russia and controlled by it militants of the aggravation of the situation in the Donbas to the highest level in the past few months. Besides, J. Stoltenberg expressed significant concern about Russia's unannounced military exercises.

Against this background, of some interest are the positions of the Russian Federation's leadership on the major issues of domestic and foreign policy which were outlined by Russian President V. Putin in his end-of-year interview to the media on 23 December, 2016. In general, the main theses of the interview repeated the Russian President's Address to the Federal Assembly of 1 December 2016 and include statements about “Russia's leading role in the world and its military superiority over any potential enemies”, “the immutability of Moscow's policy, despite the Western sanctions”, “Russia's surmounting the crisis, including the growth of the Russian economy,” as well as “Russia's non-participation in the events in Ukraine”.

Besides, V. Putin dwelled on the Crimean issue and expressed Moscow's intention to continue the activities of its integration into Russia (including the completion of the construction of the bridge across the Kerch Strait). So, V. Putin actually voiced Moscow's intention to continue its neo-imperial policy, towards Ukraine included. At the same time, in an obvious dissonance with such intentions, he expressed the expectation of the possibility of improved relations with the United States and other Western countries.

Along with the above-mentioned aspects, a separate resonant trend in the development of the situation around Ukraine became the next activation of terrorist activities of Islamic extremists, which is a response to the loss of their positions in Syria. Lately, the evidences of this were massive terrorist attacks in Turkey, Germany and other countries, as well as the murder of the Russian Ambassador in Ankara. These facts are already being used by Moscow for the purpose of resuscitation of the idea of rapprochement between Russia and the West on the ground of a “joint fight against international terrorism“.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO zone)

Загострення ситуації на Світлодарській дузіThe situation in the conflict zone in the East of Ukraine is largely determined by the consequences of the Russian-terrorist forces' large scale attack on the ATO forces' positions near the village of Luhanske on the Svetlodarsk arc (near Debaltsevo) on 18 December 2016. Thus, the failure of attempts to improve their tactical position, as well as the loss of an important portion of the area as a result of the Ukrainian forces' counter-attack, have caused the enemy's extremely nervous reaction. Throughout the week, the Russian terrorist forces continued active offensive actions in that area with the aim of shelling out the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the occupied positions. At the same time the shelling of the ATO forces' positions along the whole frontline had increased.

All this was accompanied by an active information campaign accusing Ukraine of the “launching offensive operations to seize Debaltsevo”. Besides, the sharpening of the situation on the Svetlodarsk Arc was interpreted as “an alarming signal for Kiev,” as well as evidence of “the inadmissibility of Ukraine's policy towards the Donbas, including the Ukrainian approach to the determination of the principles of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements”.

However, through various kinds of “public figures” and “experts”, including representatives of the Russian Federation's government agencies, there continued the statements about the threat of the possibility of Russia's using direct military force against Ukraine. In particular, the example of this was the statement of the “leading expert” of the Center for Military-Political Studies of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University of the MFA of Russia) about “the need for Russia's applying such strikes against the Armed Forces of Ukraine in case of their violation of the truce and passing to the offensive”. According to the Russian “expert”, to conduct such strikes, Russia should use aviation, cruise missiles and long-range artillery, as it does in Syria.

In turn, the self-proclaimed republics' leaderships have stated about the possibility of holding “referendums” on the question of the “DPR” and “LPR”'s joining the Russian Federation in case of “Ukraine's not fulfilling the Minsk Agreements”. Earlier representatives of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation had voiced in the State Duma of Russia the initiative to prepare appeals to V. Putin about the recognition of the “results” of such a “referendum”.

In general, the above-mentioned circumstances lead to the conclusion about Russia's turning to a qualitatively new level of pressure on Ukraine in the military and political spheres in order to force our State to carry out Russia's conditions of the “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas. This becomes especially important for the Putin regime in terms of extension of the EU sanctions against Russia, and the demonstration by the US Congress of its firm and irreconcilable positions in relation to the Russian Federation.

These Russia's intentions were confirmed during the next meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk on 21 December, 2016. Thus, the Russian side continued its efforts to impose on Ukraine the so-called Steinmeier's formula for the order of the elections in the “DPR” and “LPR” and determining their status. At this, in order to put pressure on Ukraine, representatives of Russia and its puppets in the Donbas, as before, were using the practice of manipulating the issues of the exchange of the prisoners of war and disengagement of the forces.

In response, Ukraine rejected the possibility of moving to political aspects of the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas before solving all security problems and this is the principled position of our state. In this regard, there was the intensification of hostilities in the zone of the armed conflict, particularly in the Svetlodarsk arc. However, Ukraine confirmed its demands for the return of the parties onto the line of demarcation fixed in the Memorandum of 19 September, 2014. On this basis, Ukraine pointed out a need for demilitarization of Debaltsevo, and of the near Sahanka, Kumachove and Komsomolske in the South of Donetsk region. Besides, the Ukrainian side again raised the question of resuming the work of the Zolote checking point.

Following the talks, the participants adopted a statement on the need for a comprehensive, sustained and permanent ceasefire on the eve of the New Year holidays from December 24, 2016. Besides, they signed a framework decision on the disengagement of forces on specific sectors of the front.

Russia's actions in the conflict zones on the territory of Ukraine have been strongly condemned by the leaderships of the USA, NATO and the EU. Thus, in connection with the attack of the Russian-terrorist forces on the positions of the ATO forces on 18 December 2016, the US Department of State has accused Russia of violating the Minsk Agreements and announced it directly responsible for the events on the Svetlodarsk Arc.

In view of the above-mentioned circumstances, as well as the UN General Assembly's Resolution of 19 December 2016, the United States expanded the list of persons and entities against whom the sanctions are introduced due to their involvement in Moscow's annexation of the Crimea and provoking the conflict in the Donbas.

The Russian-terrorist troops' attacks on the ATO forces' positions have been also condemned by NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, F. Mogherini.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

The leadership of the Russian federation is making efforts to level the international resonance caused by the adoption of UN Security Council's Resolution on the recognition of Russia's occupation of the Ukrainian Crimea and violations of human rights in the Peninsula. Thus, the “head” of the Crimea S. Aksenov has called the Resolution “a biased propaganda stamp, which has nothing to do with reality”. However, he expressed his willingness to receive international observers in case if V. Putin allows him to. At the same time there began the process of preparing the delegation of “representatives” of the Crimea, which should give the United Nations “evidence of large-scale positive changes in the Peninsula following its annexation by Russia”. Besides, the “government” of the Crimea has expressed an intention to submit to the UN a similar draft resolution on “Human rights violations in Ukraine”.

Against this background, the Ministry of Education and Science of Russia has supported the initiative of the “Public Chamber of the Crimea” to include the theme of the “Crimean Spring” into all-Russian school textbooks. This initiative is aimed at persuading young people that it was the Crimea's just and lawful reunification with Russia, not the former's violent annexation by Moscow.

 

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

In the context of the on-going confrontation between Russia and the West, V. Putin's regime continues its efforts to build up Russia's military potential, and to demonstrate it to the United States and Europe.

Thus, during the meeting of the Board of the Ministry of Defense of Russia on December 22, 2016, Russian President V. Putin tasked the Government and the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation to strengthen the country's strategic nuclear forces by adopting new missile systems capable of guaranteed overcoming the existing and future missile defense systems of the enemy. At this, emphasis was placed on the deployment of the US missile defense systems in Europe and the implementation of the modernization program of nuclear bombs in storage in Europe.

In turn, Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu voiced Moscow's plans to further strengthen the groups of Russian troops on the Western, South-Western and Arctic strategic directions. Besides, according to him, in 2017 the Russian Armed Forces will be equipped with new weapons systems by more than 60 %. In particular, S. Shoigu pointed out the large-scale rearmament of the Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) of the RF Armed Forces. For example, in 2016, the Strategic Missile Forces have received over 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles, including 23 new “Yars” mobile systems with which four Regiments of the Strategic Missile Forces were rearmed.

During his speech at the Board of the Ministry of Defense, S. Shoigu actually ranked the Armed Forces of Ukraine among NATO forces and accused the Ukrainian military command that it “raves a campaign on Moscow”.

At the same time, in response to the prolongation of the EU's sanctions against Russia over the Ukrainian issue, V. Putin's regime resumed the use of energy pressure on the EU and Ukraine. Thus, during the tripartite negotiations in the format of EU-Ukraine-Russia, the Russian side refused to sign an additional agreement (an appendix to the commercial contract) on gas deliveries to our country and thus thwarted the adoption of the whole “winter package”. As with the previous two years, the additional agreement was to secure the commitment “Gazprom”'s obligation to supply gas in full, not applying the principle of “take and pay” and not taking the advance payment as the payment for the supply of gas to the occupied Donbas.

To make the situation more acute, the head of “Gazprom” A. Miller voiced the threats to limit Russian gas supplies to the EU in case of “Ukraine's unauthorized off-take”. At this, he spoke about the alleged “significant problems in Ukraine, which has pumped into its gas storage critically low volumes of gas and has already started its taking off”.

In addition, in contrast to Ukraine's course of European integration, V. Putin's regime intensifies information campaign to impose on the Ukrainian society the ideas of the “Russian world”. In particular, there were allegations of “resuming a positive attitude to Russia by most of the Ukrainian population”, and “non-acceptance by it of the Ukrainian leadership's actions in the Donbas”. There grows the number of statements and assessments by Russian politicians about the “feasibility of deepening the integration processes in the post-Soviet space” and “uniting potentials of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan”.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Despite a number of differences over the Ukrainian and Russian issues, the vast majority of European countries supports the EU's firm positions in regard to Russia. December 20, 2016, PACE adopted a resolution on the impossibility of full restoration of the rights of the Russian delegation in the Organization until Russia has returned the Crimea to Ukraine, and has fulfilled the Minsk Agreements. This confirmed similar PACE's resolutions adopted in 2014 and 2015.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. December 19, 2016, the Electoral College of the United States (includes representatives of American states from the Republican and Democratic Parties) approved the election of D. Trump President of the United States of America. According to the US Constitution, this decision must be approved by the Congress of the country, which will consider it in January 2017.

Against this background, the US government continues to show rather conflicting approaches to the American security policy. Thus, after D. Trump's representatives' consultations with the Pentagon leadership, December 20, 2016, a document was made public about the views of the new US administration on threats to national security, from the list of which Russia's actions were excluded. At the same time, D. Trump has called for the development and strengthening of the strategic nuclear potential of the United States, as the main factor deterring opponents.

The US new administration's conclusions concerning Russia have caused confusion and concern in the US Defense Department, which continues to consider the policy of V. Putin's regime the main challenge to the United States. A similar position is taken by most members of the US Congress. Thus, according to the statements of Senators from the Democratic Party, the US Congress will toughly deal with any attempt of the new administration to change the USA's policy towards Russia. In this regard, D. Trump's possible actions to conclude agreements with Putin that would jeopardize Ukraine's sovereignty or security of NATO's allies, will cause sharp opposition from both the Democratic and Republican Parties.

Evidence of such a position of the US Congress is the demands of high-ranking representatives of both parliamentary Parties to hold a thorough investigation into Russian actions aimed at influencing the results of the US presidential elections.

Moreover, December, 23, 2016, the current US President Barack Obama approved the defense budget of the country for 2017, providing for the allocation of 4.1 billion US dollars for the implementation of measures to curb Russia, including 350 million US dollars — to support Ukraine.

The Netherlands. According to the state news channel of the country Telegraaf TV, the Senate (Parliament)'s Upper Chamber of the Netherlands is ready to support the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union with the amendments agreed on during the consultations between the Netherlands' government and the EU. With high probability the most votes will be received in the Lower Chamber of the Senate too. The vote on the ratification by the Netherlands of an Agreement between Ukraine and the EU is scheduled for January 2017.

 

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

Russia. With the approach of the end of 2016, analytical structures of the Russian Federation are summing up the socio-economic development of the country for the last year. At this, against the background of optimistic statements by the Russian leadership (including in V. Putin's end-of-year interview) about “overcoming the main problems of the Russian economy”, the real estimates remain quite disappointing. Thus, according to the Academy of National Economy and Public Administration of the Russian Federation, the fall in real incomes since October 2014 has amounted to 12.3 % by October 2016. At this, real wages have fallen by 8.7 % and the real size of pensions — by 7 %. In turn, according to the results of the State Statistics Service's survey, 20 % to 40 % of Russian citizens (depending on region) consider themselves poor and do not have enough money to buy food and essential commodities.

Worsening of socio-economic problems in Russia is accompanied by increased protest activity of the Russian population, passing from the regional to the federal level. For example, after unsuccessful attempts to solve at the level of local authorities the problem of repayment of debts on wages to miners of the Rostov region of the Russian Federation, last week was planned an action of protest by miners' movement activists in Moscow. However, these intentions were blocked by security forces of Russia, which blocked the exits from the main mining centers, in particular, from Gukovo.

In fact, as of today, in Russia have already been created at least three organized protest movements of socio-economic orientation, which unite the miners of Rostov region, the farmers of the Krasnodar Territory and of other regions of Russia, as well as the owners and drivers of motor companies of intercity and interregional (“long-range”) transport communication. At this, a number of Russian opposition forces of both, “non-system” and “system” (in fact, the Kremlin-controlled) nature, especially the Communist Party, are trying to head these protests.

 

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

According to special services of the world leading countries, with the approach of Christmas and New Year holidays, we should expect further intensification of international terrorist organizations' activities, which raises the level of threat of new terrorist attacks with numerous victims. Such attacks cannot be excluded in Ukraine either.

In turn, Russia will continue to use the situation in its own interests to restore relations with the West. At this, as in the beginning of Moscow's direct interference into the armed conflict in Syria, Putin's regime will try to convince the Western countries that it is necessary to change their positions over the Ukrainian issue in favor of Russia.

At the same time, the increase in terrorist threats in Europe will be another direction of Russia's information campaign aimed at undermining the electoral positions of the ruling political forces of Germany and France by demonstrating the “failure” of their leaders “to ensure security in their own countries”, and their “unwilling to cooperate with Russia in the fight against Islamic extremism“.

 

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

The ATO forces' successful counteracting the Russian-terrorist forces' offensive on the Svetlodarsk Arc creates a number of negative consequences for the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas and the Putin regime, standing behind them. First of all, it concerns the failure of their attempts to take important tactical positions to conduct more large-scale offensive operations with the aim of pushing the Armed Forces of Ukraine from Debaltsevo (as an important transport hub), as well as to establish control over Uglegorsk TPP. Besides, the successful actions of the ATO forces certainly undermine the morale activities of the enemy (Russian-terrorist forces).

Given this, we should expect the “DPR”/”LPR” and Russia's attempts to get “revenge” on the Svetlodarsk Arc, and in other parts of the front line in the Donbas. Evidence of this is the continuation of the enemy's measures for strengthening its forces in the area of Debaltsevo, including bringing to the front line the heavy weapons prohibited by the Minsk Agreements. At this, as previously, the Trilateral Contact Group's statement in Minsk on 21 December 2016 about the need to stop the fire, in no way will stop the “DPR”/“LPR” or the Russian Federation.

Besides, we should expect further Russia's actions to lever the importance of the UN General Assembly's Resolution on the Crimea through the launching an information campaign to justify Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Peninsula, and demonstrating “positive effects” of the annexation, and accusing Ukraine's authorities of “violations of human rights in Ukraine”. There will also be stepped up measures to organize visits to the Crimea of all sorts of delegations of “foreign representatives”, and appeals to international bodies with the explanation of “the actual situation in the Crimean Peninsula”.

At the same time, Moscow will be seeking new means of influence on Ukraine in order to force our State to carry out the Russian conditions of the “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas. In particular, to this end, Russia can start the process (or imitation of it) of the “DPR” and “LPR”'s joining Russia.