December 31, 2016

Week's News Express Analysis № 31/12

 

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

(December 26–31, 2016)

 

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

The main trend in the development of the situation in the world and around Ukraine in 2016 was further aggravation of the confrontation between Russia and the United States, NATO, the EU over the Ukrainian issue, accompanied by the sides' putting pressure on each other and building up their military capabilities.

The result of such a confrontation last year was the adoption by the US Congress and the President of the USA of the defense budget for 2017, which provides for the allocation of 4.2 billion US dollars to contain Russia, including 350 million US dollars to support Ukraine in the military sphere.

Those decisions caused a backlash in Moscow, which accused the current US administration of “deliberate aggravation of relations with Russia” and “intentions to thwart D. Trump's plans to improve the USA-Russia relations”. In this context, the RF Foreign Ministry made special emphasis on changing the tasks of the US Ballistic Missile Defense System (in the respective section of the budget expenditure) from “countering a limited attack on the US” to “ensuring efficient, reliable and layered defence against a missile attack”. Based on this, it was concluded that “the US Ballistic Missile Defense System is directed exactly against Russia, not against Iran and North Korea” and this “undermines the nuclear parity between the United States and the Russian Federation”.

Besides, the RF Foreign Ministry expresses its “being surprised” with “the USA's “consistent linking the bilateral contacts with Russia in the military sphere with the Ukrainian crisis”. At this, the alleged reasons for of “the Crimean population's decision to return to Russia” and the conflict in the East of Ukraine are “violence to overthrow a legitimate government in Ukraine in 2014, not Moscow's mythical armed aggression”.

In order to support these Kremlin's allegations, to discredit the current leadership of Ukraine and to justify Russia's actions against our country, on 27 December 2016 Dorohomilovskiy District Court of Moscow recognized the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine in early 2014 — an “anti-constitutional coup”.

In this context, an important negative factor for Ukraine is some American politicians' irresponsible and provocative recommendations on ways to restore relations between the USA and Russia at the expense of Ukraine's interests. In particular, such suggestions have been made by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who recommended the new leadership of the United States to recognize “the Crimea's belonging to Russia” in exchange for Moscow's consent to leave the Donbas, and to leave the post-Soviet space in the Kremlin's sphere of influence.

The said proposal was immediately used by Russian political circles as a “guide to action against Ukraine”. Thus, during the meeting of the “Russian Horizons” club on 28 December, 2016, Russian “economist”, “analyst” and former official of V. Putin's administration M. Khazin proposed to “publicly discuss” his plan to return control of Ukraine, which provides for a complete destruction of the Ukrainian state. According to the views of the Russian “expert”, the “Novorossia”(“New Russia”) should include the Ukrainian territory from Kharkiv to Odesa regions, together with a total “de-Ukrainization” (including the prohibition of the Ukrainian language and media and repressions of those unhappy with the Russian regime). However, in his opinion, Chernihiv, Kyiv and Sumy regions should be turned into an “agrarian country like Hungary without an army and industry”. In turn, the western Ukrainian lands are supposed to be given to Poland. At this, he refers to the position of the new leadership of the United States, which supposedly provides for “restoring the spheres of influence in the world”.

Disclosure of such plans is the continuation of Russia's policy of pressure on Ukraine, which has got intensified and has become more open and rigid since the election of D. Trump President of the USA — in Russia's hope for changes in Washington's policy.

In particular, in this context was made the recent statement of the “leading expert” of the Center for Military-Political Studies of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University of the MFA of Russia) M. Alexandrov on the “necessity of Russia's hitting the Armed Forces of Ukraine in case of their violation of the truce in the Donbas and going on an offensive”.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

Within the framework of the general policy of Russia towards Ukraine, in 2016, the main directions of Moscow's actions remained forcing our state to fulfill Russia's conditions of the “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas (according to the so-called Steinmeier's Formula), and deepening the Crimea's integration into Russia and turning it into a powerful military base.

 

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO Zone)

These intentions of Moscow regarding the conflict in the Donbas were confirmed in the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement of 27 December 2016 with a call to the USA “to force Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements”. However, once again was pointed out “Russia's non-participation in the events in the East of Ukraine” and “no grounds for accusing Moscow of violation of the Agreements because it has no relation to them”. Moreover, contrary to obvious facts, the Russian Foreign Ministry shifted to Ukraine the responsibility for the worsening of the situation in the Donbas after the Russian-terrorist forces' attack on the ATO forces' positions near the Svetlodarsk Arc on 18 December 2016.

Against this background, contrary to the statement of the OSCE Minsk Group to declare a truce from December 24, 2016, the Russian-terrorist forces have intensified their shelling the ATO forces with the a peak intensity over 60 per day. Besides, December 29, 2016 there was another attack on the positions of Ukraine's Armed Forces, now in a steep area near Kruta Balka, Donetsk region. The above-mentioned reaffirms the audacity of Russia which deliberately ignores its obligations.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

The leadership of the Russian Federation paid special attention to speeding up the process of the Crimea's integration into Russia's legislative field as part of the practical implementation of V. Putin's Decree of July 28, 2016 on the elimination of the Crimean Federal District as a single administrative unit, and making the Crimea part of the Southern Federal District of the Russian Federation. Implementation of this decision is the main task of the new “Prosecutor” of the Crimea O. Kamyshlov (transferred from the post of the Deputy Prosecutor of the city of Moscow). Besides, the “Public Prosecution Office” of the Crimea plans to focus on “counteracting extremism in the peninsula and Ukraine's subversive activities”.

Besides, Moscow continued measures to ensure the Crimea's energy independence from Ukraine. In late December 2016, was commissioned the pipeline from the Krasnodar Territory of the Russian Federation to the Crimea. However, they admit the existence of significant difficulties in implementation of the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait. First of all, it concerns the refusal of the majority of Russian and foreign companies to participate in the project because of Western sanctions.

Besides, Moscow continues massive militarization of the Crimea. In particular, during 2016 they completed the Crimea's integration into the Air Defense System of the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces. At this, the units of the Russian occupying forces in the Crimean Peninsula have been re-equipped with new models of military equipment, including S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.

 

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

In terms of the confrontation between Russia and the West, in the military field Moscow's sharpest reaction was caused by the USA and NATO's actions to build up the groups of their Armed Forces in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Baltic states.

In particular, this question was raised by Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu during the real-time conference with the Command of the RF Armed Forces on 27 December 2016. Thus, the above-mentioned actions of the USA and NATO were called by S. Shoigu “the main threat to the national security of the Russian Federation”. With this in mind, he set the task of strict implementation of the Action Plan of the Ministry of Defense until 2020, which was adopted on an extended meeting of the Board of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation with the participation of V. Putin on 22 December 2016. The plan provides for the continuation of efforts to strengthen the RF Armed Forces on the European and Ukrainian directions.

Besides, especially were pointed out Moscow's intentions to provide an adequate response to US plans to supply Poland with cruise “air-to-surface” JASSM-ER missiles to equip Polish F-16. In particular, one of such elements of this response was the comprehensive training of the Air Defense System of Moscow and Moscow region in late December 2016.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. The main result of the development of relations between the EU and Ukraine in 2016 was the official recognition by the EU leadership of the success of our state's reforms in political, economic, legal and other spheres, and the fight against corruption in the country. This made possible continuation and increasing of the EU's financial aid to Ukraine, as well as simplifying the visa regime between our country and the European Union.

December 27, 2016, the above-mentioned success of Ukraine was confirmed by the EU's Ambassador in our country H. Mingarelli. With this in mind, the European Union allocated Ukraine the second tranche of financial assistance amounting to 55 million Euros, under the “State building contract”, signed in 2014. The funds are provided to Ukraine on free and irrevocable basis.

However, the EU has been paying special attention to counteracting Russia's expansion. In this regard, the European experts point out the negative effects of Moscow's actions to influence the policy of the European Union by supporting Euro-skeptic, pro-Russian and nationalist forces in the EU, using Russian lobby in Europe, bribing some politicians and spreading undermining propaganda.

Due to this, there is the need to continue the sanction policy towards Russia (first of all, implementation of the decisions of the EU summit of December 15, 2016) and of the new Strategy in Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (adopted at the EU summit in June 2016) and implementation of the European Parliament's Resolution “EU Strategic Communication to Counteract Anti-EU Propaganda by Third Parties” (adopted on 23 November 2016).

Plans of deployment of NATO's new units in the CEE and Baltic StatesNATO. NATO's key political step in 2016 was the decision of the Warsaw Summit to strengthen the Alliance's military presence on the Eastern direction. December 27, 2016, the above-mentioned plans were confirmed by the Ministry of Defence of Germany. Thus, in January 2017, 300 German soldiers from the 122nd Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of Germany will be sent to Lithuania. The German unit as part of the Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) of the Allied Armed Forces in Lithuania will be armed with six tanks and 20 armored personnel carriers, artillery and medium-range air defense system. At the same time, in January 2017 a BTG of the Allied Armed Forces in Latvia will receive a tank company of the Armed Forces of Poland.

In his turn, in his interview to the media, NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg expressed his firm intention to continue the Alliance's Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine. He also stressed the importance of practical implementation of the plans for Ukraine's joining the NATO’s “Enhanced Opportunities Partner” program (is actually an analog of the NATO’s “Membership Action Plan”).

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. From the beginning of 2016, the US leadership has been making consistent efforts to increase pressure on V. Putin's regime as part of the extension of sanctions against Russia. In particular, December 27, 2016 the United States enacted an additional package of restrictions against individuals and companies involved in Russia's annexation of the Crimea and in provoking the conflict in the Donbas. Besides, December 29, the USA introduced another (separate) package of sanctions related to interference in the course of the presidential elections in the USA, including against the GRU of the General Staff and the FSB of the Russian Federation. Apart from this, 35 Russian diplomats were expelled from the USA.

For his part, the US President-Elect D. Trump earlier questioned Russia's hacker attacks against the computer networks of the US government and political bodies and structures, and recommend to “forget about it”. However, taking into consideration the public reaction to the matter, D. Trump has agreed to discuss it next week with the leaders of the US Intelligence for more information. He understands perfectly well that in case of confirmation of the information about the Kremlin's interference with the presidential elections in the USA, the results may be invalidated, which means the US Congress gets additional leverage to D. Trump, up to the possibility of impeachment.

Germany. In 2016 Germany remained a key partner of Ukraine in the EU in terms of supporting our country and of the European policy of sanctions against Russia. At this, very positive for Ukraine was the increasing rating of German Chancellor A. Merkel, who is running for the post of head of the German government in preparation for the parliamentary elections in the country. According to sociological researches, more than half of Germany's citizens are for A. Merkel.

Against this background, the German leadership is taking additional measures to prevent Russia's interference with the election process in Germany. In particular, to this end, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Germany is going to establish a special Center to counteract misinformation on the Internet.

 

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

Russia. Last year, Russia's major internal problem was further deterioration of the economic situation in the country under Western sanctions. Thus, the Russian government's official reports refute completely the propaganda statements by the Russian authorities about the improved state of the country's economy.

In particular, according to the Ministry of Economic Development and the Central Bank of Russia, in 2016 the decline in GDP was 0.6-0.7 %, instead of “an increase of 0.7 %” stated by Russian President V. Putin in his Address to the Federation Council of 1st December 2016 and in the end-of-year interview to the media of December 23. At the same time, virtually leveled are the Russian President's statements about “preservation” and even “growth” of Russia's gold and foreign currency reserves. At this, among the main reasons for the negative trends in the Russian economy is the decrease in consumer demand and investment.

Besides, Russian experts refute the Russian Federation's leadership's statements about strengthening of the positions of the Russian “Gazprom” in the European market. Thus, the increase in the share of Russian gas in the EU energy mix from 31 % to 33 % is due solely to the growth of re-export of gas from Europe to Ukraine. Moreover, due to falling gas prices, “Gazprom”'s profits in 2016 declined by 10 %, in fact to the limits of the profitability of its work.

The Eurasian Economic Union. Despite the EurAsEU's priority for Russia, in 2016 the situation remained difficult and was characterized by increasing contradictions between its members and the subsequent decline in mutual trade. The evidence of exacerbation of these problems was the refusal of the President of Belarus A. Lukashenko to participate in the meeting of the EurAsEU Supreme Economic Council at the level of the leaders of the EurAsEU member states on 27 December 2016 in St. Petersburg. A. Lukashenko's decision on the issue was commented by President of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly (Parliament) of Belarus V. Andreychenko. According to him, the EurAsEC does not take important decisions and has actually become Moscow's purely political project.

 

V. Major 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 situation around our country will be determined by the position and actions of the USA towards Ukraine and Russia after the official inauguration of the new President of the United States D. Trump. In this regard, the main indicators of Washington's future policy towards Ukraine and Russia will be: D. Trump's first statement after his inauguration on 20 January 2017, his possible decisions to amend the US defense budget, and maintaining or lifting the sanctions against Russia in February–March 2017.

At the same time, D. Trump's possible actions to change US foreign policy in terms of establishing relations with Russia at the expense of Ukraine and the USA's partners in NATO will inevitably cause a consolidated opposition from the Congress of the United States. The above-mentioned fact was confirmed by the head of the US Senate Committee on Armed Forces John McCain during his visit to the Baltic States and Ukraine in late December 2016. In its turn, this can lead to sharp contradictions between the President and Congress of the United States and, quite possibly, to a deep political crisis in the country.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned, we should not exclude D. Trump's turning to a policy of balancing between his own interests, the interests of the Russian lobby in political and economical circles of the USA and the demands of the US Congress. In particular, on the one hand, D. Trump will demonstrate his willingness to improve relations with Russia and carry out certain steps in this direction, and on the other — he will limit the real actions in this sphere to the framework acceptable for the American Parliament. Some independent experts do not exclude that D. Trump will not serve his full term as President of the United States.

In turn, in this situation Russia will be building up efforts to influence both, the policy of the USA and the positions of the leading European countries. In particular, in this regard the efforts of the RF Foreign Ministry will be aimed at organizing a meeting of Russian President V. Putin with D. Trump before the latter's inauguration. In case if the American side agrees, the meeting will be used by V. Putin to persuade D. Trump that there is a “need to stop putting pressure on Russia in the interests of both countries” and “expediency of Washington's support to Moscow's policy towards Ukraine”. Russia's today's actions to discredit Ukraine and its attempts to prove the “illegitimacy” of the current Ukrainian authorities are aimed exactly at this.

 

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

Until the US new leadership's attitude to Ukraine and Russia becomes clear, V. Putin's regime will continue the policy of blocking any important decisions to resolve the situation in the Donbas. First of all, it will not let adopt the “road map” for implementation of the Minsk Agreements on Ukraine's terms. At the same time, Russian will keep putting pressure on Ukraine to force our State to agree to Russia's terms of resolving the conflict in the Donbas (including the use of new approaches in terms of demonstrating Russia's intentions to make the “DPR”/“LPR” part of Russia)

In this regard, D. Trump's confirmation of the immutability of US policy towards Russia and Ukraine will remain the main factor of containing Moscow's actions against our State. In this situation, the main efforts of the Kremlin will be directed to the depletion of Ukraine by maintaining permanent tension in the Donbas, and creating conditions for restoration of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine. In turn, the change in US policy could leave Ukraine alone with Russia.

Under such circumstances, Ukraine's presidency (as a non-permanent member) in the UN Security Council will help our country defend its positions in the international arena. In particular, after the UN General Assembly's recognition of the fact of occupation of the Crimea by Russia, Ukraine may raise the question of recognition at the level of the UN of the Putin regime's direct military intervention in the conflict in the Donbas. Important for Ukraine in terms of realization of its national interests will be President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko's meeting with US President D. Trump, preliminarily planned for February 2017.

 

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