January 16, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 02(33)/01

 

LAST WEEK'S KEY FACTORS AND MAIN TRENDS
IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SITUATION AROUND UKRAINE
(January 09–15, 2017)

 

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

The main resonant event in the development of the situation around Ukraine was the press conference of the US President-Elect D. Trump on 11 January, 2017. The key theme of the new US leader's meeting with the media was his attitude to Russia that will actually determine the status of the geopolitical situation in the world in the long term.

Thus, the main essence of D. Trump's positions expressed by him regarding Russia, was a demonstration of readiness to cooperate with Russia, but only on the basis of the USA's interests and actions of Moscow itself. At this, D. Trump acknowledged Russia's being the USA's rival, rejected the possibility of an automatic “reset” of relations with it (as H. Clinton once tried to do while in the post of Secretary of State), he denied the existence of any obligation to the Kremlin and confirmed his plans to build the United States' policy towards Russia on the principles of force.

At the same time, D. Trump expressed his intentions to make Russia respect the United States more than it does now, and did not rule out the possibility of strengthening the rigidity of Washington's attitude to Putin's regime, “...if it is necessary”. In this regard, he has actually for the first time acknowledged Moscow's interference in the presidential election in the United States.

Later, in his interview with The Wall Street Journal, D. Trump expressed his intention to maintain sanctions against Russia “at least for some time”.

On the same day, the US Congress began hearings of candidates for key positions in D. Trump's administration, which also were mainly about their attitude to Russia. In this respect, the most illustrative were the speeches of the candidates for the post of Secretary of State — R. Tillerson (former head of oil company Exxon Mobil), of the Secretary of Defense J. Mettis (nicknamed “Mad Dog” and “Warrior Monk”) and of the Director of the CIA. M. Pompeo, who in fact will be the main generators and conductors of the USA's policy towards the Russian Federation.

For example, despite his previous quite openly pro-Russian views, R. Tillerson acknowledged the illegality of Russia's annexation of the Crimea, which was seen by him as a “seizure of foreign territories”. Based on this, he chided the US previous leadership for its been not strong enough reaction to such actions of Russia's. According to R. Tillerson, apart from introduction of sanctions against Putin's regime, Washington should have advised Ukraine to deploy its military units on the eastern border, as well as to supply it with lethal weapons and the USA and NATO's intelligence data.

The candidate for the position of the new US Secretary of State shared the NATO allies concerns about V. Putin's regime's actions and stressed that Washington should continue the implementation of its obligations to the North-Atlantic Alliance. Besides, R. Tillerson accused Russia of demonstrative disregard of American interests and expressed deep concern over Moscow's intervention in the US Presidential election. According to him, Russia should bear full responsibility for the cyber attacks on the US electoral system.

Besides, R. Tillerson pointed out the impossibility of the USA's recognition of the “Russian” status of the Crimea and the need to address the Crimean issue solely on the terms that would suit Ukraine. He also spoke in favor of strengthening measures to contain Russia. According to R. Tillerson, “...the USA will never be friends with Russia, since it (the RF) does not share American values”.

Similar views were expressed by the candidate for the post of Secretary of Defense J. Mettis, who called Russia the greatest threat to the United States since the Second World War. According to J. Mettis, an evidence of this is Moscow's interference with the US Presidential election, the Putin regime's attempts to undermine the unity of NATO, as well as its use of tactics of local conflicts to destabilize the situation in other countries. Among other threats to the USA's security, he named China and Islamic extremism.

Given full compliance of J. Mettis' positions with the views of the majority of members of the US Congress, to allow his appointment to the position of civil defense minister, the US lawmakers have passed an act that makes an exception for the retired general. The document proposes to provide for the chosen one-time exception to the law establishing civilian control of the Pentagon and prohibiting former militaries (who retired fewer than seven years before taking office) to head it. Due to the fact that J. Mettis retired in 2013, it was decided to approve the bill.

Tough positions on the Russian Federation have also been expressed by the candidate for the post of the Director of the CIA M. Pompeo. Thus, he found Russia's actions the main threat to the United States and to its allies in Europe. First of all, in this regard, M. Pompeo pointed out Putin's regime's attempts to influence the results of the presidential elections in the USA, as well as the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine.

In general, all this confirms D. Trump and his team's taking more realistic positions in relation to Russia in the context of understanding the Putin regime's policy's being a threat to the United States and Europe. Hence they have abandoned the possibility of automatic reset of the United States' full cooperation with Russia until it changes its politics, especially in terms of taking into consideration the interests of the United States of America.

Besides, the above-mentioned changes in D. Trump's positions are the result of large-scale pressure on him by the Congress of the United States and his political opponents, who support maintaining the United States of America's hard-line against Russia. Manifestations of such pressure are the convincing conclusions of the US intelligence about Moscow's interference with the US Presidential elections, as well as the publication (11 January 2017) in the US media of the compromising materials on D. Trump, that allegedly are at Russia's disposal and allow it to influence him.

In view of this, today D. Trump is actually put in a no-win situation for him. For example, as the US President, D. Trump will be forced to respond to Russia's violation of the American electoral legislation. At the same time, D. Trump's any move towards Moscow will definitely be interpreted as proof of real possibilities for Russia's influencing him. In turn, this will have very negative political consequences for D. Trump, including the charge of treason, as a prerequisite for the start of impeachment proceedings.

Moscow obviously realizes that the expectations of rapid changes in the USA's relations with Russia were in vain. In particular, the evidence of this was the activation of the armed confrontation in the conflict zone in the Donbas, provoked by the Russian side.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO Zone)

January 12, 2017, in fact immediately after D. Trump's press conference, the Russian-terrorist troops sharply (almost 3 times) increased the number of attacks on the ATO forces' positions — to more than 100 a day. At this, they used heavy artillery of 152 mm caliber and mortars of a caliber of 82 mm and 120 mm. Besides, in a number of sections of the front line, the OSCE observers point out the return of heavy weapons to the front line from the rear areas, where they were placed according to the Minsk Agreements.

Under such circumstances, of great importance for Ukraine would be realization of the intentions of the OSCE leadership to expand the Organization's Mission in the Donbas, which would improve the control over the situation in the region, first of all in terms of confirmation of Russia's violation of the Minsk Agreements. In particular, last week the above-mentioned the intentions were confirmed by the OSCE new Chairperson–in-office S. Kurtz. At the same time, he actually recognized the impossibility of resolving the issue of the deployment of the OSCE Armed Police Mission in the Donbas, as it has to be approved by all members of the Organization.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

In turn, taking into consideration the actual loss of hopes for the USA's recognition of the “Russian” status of the Crimea, Russian political circles have intensified seeking the ways to justify Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. In particular, on 12 January 2017, the “deputy” (from the Crimea) of the Russian State Duma R. Balbek put forward an idea to invite an international mission to the Crimea, with the participation of Ukrainian politicians, who should see for themselves that “...all the events related to the Crimea's reunification with Russia were based on the opinion of the absolute majority of the Crimean people”. After this a final document should be adopted, which would confirm the “legitimacy of the referendum in the Crimea in 2014”.

However, realizing the full hopelessness of such initiatives, Russia continues consistent arrangements to militarize the Crimean Peninsula. On 1 January 2017, on combat duty in the Crimea was put an Air-Defence Regiment, armed with “Pantsir-S1” Air-Defence Missile-Gun Systems. Earlier, December 1, 2016, an Air-Defence Regiment was deployed, armed with S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.

This issue remains relevant for Russia in the situation of complete lack of support for its actions and positions on the part of the leading countries of the world and the region. In particular, on 12 January 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey M. Cavusoglu reiterated Ankara's refusal, under any circumstances, to recognize “legality” of Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea. According to him, Ankara is interested in developing cooperation with Russia on many issues, but will never renounce its principles.

 

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

Taking into consideration Ukraine's firm positions to defend its own interests in front of Russia, and the low probability of rapid changes in the USA's policy on the Ukrainian and Russian directions, V. Putin is looking for new opportunities to “neutralize” the leadership of our State. In particular, after the decision of Dorogomilovsky district court of Moscow of December last year on the recognition of the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine — a “coup d'etat”, Moscow is going to consider the same issue in one of the international courts. Satisfaction of such a claim can be used by Russia to deploy a large-scale information campaign on the proof of “illegitimacy” of the Ukrainian leadership. Just in case Moscow is already preparing a so-called “Ukraine's government in exile”, which could be used to form a parallel government in our country as part of the plans for restoration of the pro-Russian regime in Ukraine.

At the same time, Russia continues to conduct its targeted information campaign aimed at intensifying the Ukrainian society and leadership's disappointment with the continuation of support of our State by the USA and EU, and creating public opinion about “Ukraine having no European integration prospects”. In particular, within the framework of such a policy, they are imposing the thought about the “inevitability” of changes in the USA and the EU's policy towards Russia and Ukraine. At this, the above-mentioned statements by D. Trump and representatives of his future administration are called a “situational maneuver associated with the publication of compromising materials on the US President-Elect”. Along with this, in a negative light for Ukraine is being “inflated” the fact of another postponing of the EU's final decision on simplification of visa regime with Ukraine.

Besides, against the background of the sharp cold snap during the Christmas holidays, Russian mass media intensified the campaign with allegations of “gas shortage in Ukraine”. On this basis, they made provocative assessments of “the increasing threat of the situation in 2009, when European consumers were left without gas because of Ukraine's illegal pumping it”. Against the background of such statements and assessments, they would broadcast constant warnings by the management of the Russian company “Gazprom” about termination of gas supplies to Europe in case if Ukraine “steals” it.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. The EU's officials have confirmed their earlier drawn conclusions about Ukraine's significant achievements in reforming. The above-mentioned was stated by President of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs E. Brock on 12 January 2017. According to him, this first of all concerns court proceedings and fighting corruption. Given this, he confirmed the EU's intentions to continue to provide assistance to Ukraine, which will contribute to improving the state of the Ukrainian financial system already in the current year.

However, the negative trend in Ukraine is the EU's leadership's further delay in the process of simplification of visa regime with Ukraine. Thus, consideration of the matter by the European Parliament once again has been postponed to May 2017.

NATO. As part of the practical implementation of the decisions of the Warsaw Summit of NATO (July 2016) to strengthen the Alliance's military presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, last week, the first units of the 3rd Tank Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division of the US Armed Forces arrived in Poland. The Brigade's Staff is located in Elblong (Poland) at the Headquarters of the 16th Pomeranian Mechanized Division of the Armed Forces of Poland. Some combat units of the Brigade and the Air Support Force will be deployed together with the Staff. In particular, in the nearest future it is planned to deploy in Europe units of the 10th Army Aviation Brigade of the US Armed Forces.

According to preliminary plans, each of the multinational NATO battalions, which are planned to be deployed in Poland and the Baltic countries will include two tank companies of the 3rd Tank Brigade and a company of Army Aviation. Thus the group of the Joint NATO Forces in Poland and the Baltic countries will actually be brought to the level of brigade combat teams.

According to the NATO Deputy Secretary General R. Gottemoeller, the deployment of the US troops in Poland and other member countries of the Alliance is a “proportionate and balanced response to the Russian military activity”.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. The US Congress continues to show a strong reaction to Russia's interference with the presidential elections in the country. Thus, last week to the highest legislative body of the United States was proposed a bill on introducing comprehensive sanctions against Russia. The sanctions relate to the most sensitive for Russia financial and energy sectors, and provide for application of restrictions against individuals and companies, investing more than 20 million US dollars into the oil and gas industry of the Russian Federation (including the supply of goods, services and technologies). Besides, subjects to sanctions are investors who invest more than 5 million US dollars per year into pipelines being constructed by Russia, and more than 1 million US dollars — into civilian nuclear facilities. The bill also provides for introduction of new restrictions against the entities of financial and economic activities that implement joint projects with Russian defense companies, or have ties to the Russian security services.

According to Russian experts, the adoption of this bill would undermine the work of entire sectors of the Russian economy, which would have catastrophic consequences for Russia, including for the implementation of its plans to build new gas pipeline systems, bypassing Ukraine.

At the same time, the current US President B. Obama has extended for another year — to March 6, 2018 the entire package of sanctions against Russia in connection with its occupation and annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea.

Germany. The US intelligence agencies' key finding on Russia's interference with the presidential elections in the USA add to the FRG's leadership's concerns about Moscow's possible attempts to influence the results of the parliamentary elections in Germany in autumn 2017. Thus, according to the official representative of the German government S. Seibert, German law enforcement agencies are carefully studying the released on 6 January 2017 the FBI, CIA, and NSA's report on the above-mentioned actions of V. Putin's regime, and will surely use the American experience in order to improve the security of the national electoral system of Germany.

Sweden. Many other European countries are also concerned about Russia's information expansion. Thus, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs has accused Russia of spreading misinformation, fake news and false documents in order to influence the public opinion and decision-making process in Sweden. According to the Institute, over the past several years, Russia has been leading an active information war against Sweden, aimed at preventing its joining NATO. First of all, for this purpose, they use the Russian “Sputnik news” website and the “Russia Today” TV channel.

 

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

Russia. According to the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation's official data, during 2016 Russia's Reserve Fund decreased by 73.4 % (3.7 times) — to 972.13 billion rubles. In turn, the volume of the Russian National Welfare Fund decreased by 16.6 % — to 4.36 trillion rubles. The above-mentioned money was spent on measures to support the Russian economy, as well as to cover the deficit of the state budget of the Russian Federation. All this once again convincingly confirmed the significant economic problems in Russia under the Western sanctions, and frankly untruthful nature of the Russian leadership's statements about the state of the country's economy and its financial system.

Belarus. Against the background of the further strengthening of disagreements between Belarus and Russia on cooperation between the parties within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Belarusian side has intensified its efforts aimed at improving relations with the USA and the EU. Thus, last week, the President of Belarus A. Lukashenko signed a decree, which allows citizens of the USA and all EU countries to stay in Belarus without a visa for five days.

 

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 key factor of influence on the strategic interests of Ukraine will be the focus of the new US administration's policy after the inauguration of D. Trump on 20 January 2017. Important indicators of this policy were the new US President-Elect and his administration's representatives' speeches on 11 January 2017, which showed a high probability that a fairly complex relationship between the United States and Russia will continue. In view of this, of great importance are the estimates of the expected threats to global and regional security, made by experts of the US National Intelligence Council and the World Forum in Davos.

Thus, according to analysts of the US intelligence community, in the next five years, will significantly grow the risks of interstate and international conflicts with this or that degree of participation of the United States, Russia and China. In particular, in this context, experts point out Russia and China's possible attempts to weaken the USA's leading role at the global and regional levels that would pose a threat to world order that arose after World War II.

Besides, experts forecast further growth of Euro-skeptic, populist and nationalist moods in Europe, which will be due to a slowdown in the global economy, as well as leaching of the middle class from Western societies. In turn, this will lead to a weakening of the EU's unity and, in general, of the Western world.

According to American intelligence experts, these factors pose a threat of intensifying of the struggle between the major centers of power for the redistribution of spheres of influence in the world, which will be accompanied by an increase in the likelihood of armed conflicts of global and regional levels. As a result of this struggle, will grow the probability of worsening internal situation in individual countries, which are at the crossroads of the interests of the leading players on the world stage.

Based on this, by the beginning of the 2020s we should expect transition of relations in the world to the situation of a new “cold war”. At this, apart from the worsening global confrontation between the leading countries of the world, additional sources of threats will be growing international terrorism (including in the cyber sphere), preservation of global economic problems, and increasing social inequalities as a source of extremism. However, according to the analysts, the above-mentioned problems are not irreversible and will not necessarily lead to the third world war.

In turn, according to experts of the World Forum in Davos, in 2017 the major threats to humanity will be extreme weather phenomena, forced mass migration, international terrorism and cybercrime, as well as large-scale manifestations of illegal business activities.

Besides, among the potential risks, which will have the most devastating effect, if implemented, are mentioned the possibility of the use of weapons of mass destruction (including “Rogue states” and terrorists), extreme natural phenomena, technological and environmental disasters.

A number of long-term risks (unemployment, lack of fresh water and food, increased social inequality and the growth of populist moods) will remain.

 

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

Taking into consideration the failure of the Putin regime's hopes for Washington's support for Russia's policy towards Ukraine, we should expect further intensification of hostilities by Russian-terrorist forces in the Donbas. This is caused by the need to demonstrate decisiveness and immutability of Russia's intentions to achieve its goals, despite the US and EU's sanctions and the pressure on Ukraine and its Western partners.

With this in mind, Russia will not agree to any proposals for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the East of Ukraine, put forward by our State. In this regard completely futile are the new OSCE Chairman S. Kurtz' plans to reach an agreement with Russia on the issue of increasing the size and powers of the OSCE Mission in the Donbas.

 

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

Important for Ukraine are the events connected with the preparation and holding of the World Forum in Davos, January 17-20, 2017.

Thus, Russia intends to use the forum to strengthen its international positions and diversify its foreign economic relations under the Western sanctions against the Russian Federation. In particular, near the Press Center of the Forum they are going to open a “Russian House” residence, where they will hold a series of “round tables” and other events to discuss issues of trade and economic cooperation between Russia and its potential partners.

According to Russian officials, the main purpose of these activities will be moving the relations between Russia and the USA and the EU from the geopolitical to the economic plane. At this, quite expected will be raising the question about the feasibility of lifting the sanctions against Russia as they “do not address the interests of all the parties”.