January 30, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 04(35)/01


(January 23–29, 2017)


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

Leading Western countries demonstrate the immutability of their position to support Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia. Thus, during the new President of the United States D. Trump's talks with British Prime Minister T. May, German Chancellor A. Merkel and French President F. Hollande on the 27-28th January 2017, an agreement was reached on the need for maintaining sanctions against Russia to its full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

The Ukrainian issue was also raised during D. Trump's telephone conversation with Russian President V. Putin. D. Trump showed his being interested in the development of cooperation with Russia on issues of mutual interest, including resolving the situation around Ukraine. However, they did not touch upon the question of lifting sanctions against Russia. On the eve of the talks, Russia, in its usual manner, conducted a large-scale information campaign with allegations about the USA's alleged “being ready to lift sanctions against Russia” and “D. Trump's decree on this issue”.

The dominant part of the European community is for supporting Ukraine. For example, the situation in Ukraine and around it became one of the main themes of the winter session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), which began on 23 January, 2017.

Based on the discussion of the Ukrainian issue, PACE adopted the Resolution “The functioning of Democratic Institutions in Ukraine”, which confirms the immutability of Europe's position in support of our State. This Resolution confirms Ukraine's progress on the path of reforms, and directly recognizes the fact of Russia's armed aggression in the Donbas and the illegality of Moscow's annexation of the Crimea. Besides, it positively estimates Ukraine's cooperation with the Council of Europe.

However, the Resolution contains recommendations to continue the fight against corruption in Ukraine, reforming the electoral system, and better taking into consideration the national minorities' rights. In this context, the PACE called on all bodies of the Council of Europe to continue to provide assistance to Ukraine in strengthening its democratic institutions. In addition to this, special attention is focused on the need for the European community to take all possible measures to make Russia fulfill its obligations under international law.

In turn, the PACE's Resolution “Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe” expresses concern about the state freedom of media in the annexed by Russia Crimea and on the occupied territories of the Donbas, and the calls on Moscow to release all Ukrainian political prisoners. Apart from this, in connection with the Russian security services' assassination attempt on the People's Deputy of Ukraine A. Herashchenko, the PACE deputies adopted a separate declaration condemning Russia's terrorist activities in Ukraine.

In this regard, quite indicative were the PACE's decisions to reject Russian lobbyists' amendments to the Resolution on Ukraine, which provided for the substitution of the concept of “armed aggression against Ukraine” — by the term “internal conflict in Ukraine”, as well as the inclusion of the demands for the elections to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on occupied territories of the Donbas.

So, the results of D. Trump's talks with the leaders of the leading EU countries, as well as the Resolution adopted by the PACE became a powerful blow to the Putin regime in terms of demonstrating the Western community's understanding of the real aims of Moscow's policy, as well as its role in the events in Ukraine.

However, quite alarming for Ukraine is the PACE's leadership's and the EU's parliamentary bodies' attitudes. Thus, the newly elected President of PACE — Spanish politician Pedro Agramunt regretted “Russia's delegation being not present at the meetings of the Assembly” (was deprived of the right to vote in PACE in 2014 after Russia's attack on Ukraine). With this in mind, he expressed the intention “to intensify dialogue with Moscow to jointly find a way out of the dead end”. In turn, the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland also refrained from including Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine into the list of the main threats to European security.


II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (The ATO Zone)

In the general context of Russia's policy towards Ukraine, V. Putin's regime conducts consecutive events to persuade the international community that “Ukraine is responsible for the continuation of the conflict in the Donbas”. At this, due to the West's not perceiving such Russia's attempts, Moscow's actions are becoming more brazen and cynical.

Thus, during the Government Hour in the State Duma of the Russian Federation January 25, 2017, Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov once again accused Ukraine of “sustainable unwillingness to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk Agreements”. Evidence of this was called Ukraine's principled position on the impossibility of resolving political issues of the peace plan before having resolved all security issues. The head of the Russian Foreign Ministry focused on the alleged support to the Russian approach by Germany and France as members of the “Normandy Four”.

Besides, according to S. Lavrov, “...Ukraine continues armed provocations in the conflict zone shelling the militants and their troops' positions”. “In support” of these allegations, the Russian-terrorist forces stepped up shelling in the conflict zone in the Donbas, including using heavy artillery systems and multiple launch rocket systems with a peak intensity of about 60 attacks per day.

Most serious attention should be paid to the situation near Avdiyivka, near Yasinovatskiy junction and industrial area, where on the morning of January 29, 2017, the Russian-terrorist forces tried to conduct an offensive against the Ukrainian positions. Large forces of artillery of the 1st AK of the Russian occupation troops were delivering firepower on the Ukrainian defense trying to shell out the Ukrainian units from the area. According to the latest data from the front line, Russian mercenaries' units have been using even tanks. The Ukrainian artillery has been giving an active and effective response.


2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

Taking into consideration the failure of Putin's regime's expectations for the possibility of international recognition of the Crimea's belonging to Russia, Moscow enhances the rigidity of actions to eliminate all possible threats to its occupying authorities in the Peninsula. Last week, under the pretext of “a special operation to identify members of the banned in Russia terrorist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir”, Russia intensified activities aimed at “cleansing” the Crimean Tatar activists. In particular, they arrested lawyer E. Kuberdinov who protects the Deputy Chairman of the Majlis I. Umerov.

At the same time, the excesses of Russian invaders cause growing protest moods among the population of the Peninsula, which is returning to the active protection of its rights. For example, E. Kuberdinov's arrest was accompanied by a protest of local activists who tried to prevent the actions of Russia's law enforcement bodies. In fact, this case became an open signal to Moscow about the futility of its expectations for the impunity of the Russian authorities in the Crimea.


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

V. Putin's regime is continuing its efforts to discredit Ukraine in front of the new leadership of the US and to undermine the US-Ukrainian relations. For example, in preparation for US President D. Trump's meeting with President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko, political circles in Russia have initiated a political-information campaign accusing the Ukrainian authorities of “being involved in plundering the American aid”. At this they tell about “D. Trump's intentions to launch an investigation of these facts”.

Besides, the Russian leadership shows a strong negative reaction to the plans of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to amend the language legislation of our country. In particular, in this regard, the head of the RF State Duma Committee on International Policy A. Pushkov has accused the Ukrainian leadership of “continuation of the policy of dictatorship which once made Russia take under the Crimea under its protection”. A similar statement was made by Deputy Chairman of the Federation Parliament on National Security F. Klintsevich, who said “Ukraine is leading a policy of genocide of the Russian language”.

Against this background, Russia continues active operational and combat training of the RF Armed Forces, including the Strategic Missile Forces. Thus, from 12 to 20 January, 2017, there were tactical trainings of five missile formations of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces with combat patrolling of about 30 mobile launchers of “Topol-M” and “Yars”. All in all in 2017 there will be about 130 command post and tactical exercises, as well as 10 combat trainings (testing) of ICBM launches.

At the same time, Russia continues organizational and planning activities for the preparation of “West-2017” SCPE scheduled for the autumn of this year in Russia and Belarus. This issue was considered in the course of operational-mobilization meeting of the command of the Western Military District of the RF Armed Forces, led by Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu 17 January 2017, at the headquarters of the Western Military District in St. Petersburg. According to the RF Ministry of Defense, “...the exercise is a response to the USA and NATO's building up their military presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and in the Baltic states”. By its scale, the “West-2017” SCPE will be greater than “Caucasus-2016” SCPE, in which were engaged 222 thousand people, including 125 thousand professional military servicemen and 97 thousand Reservists.

After the completion of the operational-mobilization meeting of the command of the Western Military District of the RF Armed Forces, on 19-21 January 2017, S. Shoigu visited with working visits the Southern and Central Military Districts, which will also take part in the “West-2017” SCPE. He also visited the new formations of the RF Armed Forces, deployed in 2016: 150th Motorized Rifle Division (Novocherkassk, Rostov region; on the border with Ukraine) and 90th Tank Division (Chelyabinsk region; intended to strengthen the groups of the front-line Military Districts).

Besides, S. Shoigu checked the work of a number of strategic enterprises of the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation, including the Kazan Aviation Plant, which is engaged in the production, maintenance, repair and modernization of Tu-160 and Tu-22MZ planes of long-range (bombardment) aviation. The plant is completing preparations for the resumption of serial production of Tu-160 aircraft in the version of the Tu-160M2.

On a single operational background with the “West-2017” SCPE, it is planned to conduct operational-strategic exercises of the CSTO “Enduring Brotherhood-2017”. Preparations to the exercise were discussed on 18 January 2017, during the 9th meeting of the CSTO Military Council.


III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. The EU leadership keeps increasing attention to countering the destructive influence from Russia. Thus, according to previous decisions, on 24 January 2017, the European Commission has allocated additional 800 thousand Euros to finance the EU working group on Strategic Communications “East StratCom Task Force”. The group performs the task of curbing Moscow's informational expansion and is part of the EU's External Action Service (the analog of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

However, very important for the interests of Ukraine is the officially recognized by the Court of Justice of the European Union fact of Russia's supplying weapons to the separatists in the Donbas. Evidence of such Moscow's actions were presented to the Court by the EU Council during the study of the claim of the Russian side about the legality of the sanctions against the concern “Almaz-Antey” (produces equipment for air defense). In view of this, the claim was rejected.

NATO. The new US administration has confirmed the immutability of Washington's relations with NATO. January 23, 2017 (within the framework of the first steps in the post of head of the defense department), new US Secretary of Defense James Mattis had a telephone conversation with the Secretary General of the Alliance J. Stoltenberg, during which he confirmed the solidity of the USA's position to fulfill their obligations to NATO. Such intentions of the United States were expressed by J. Mattis also to the Defense Ministers of Great Britain and Canada.

Besides, J. Mattis expressed the USA's readiness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against international terrorism. At the same time, the US Defense Department has rejected the possibility of “coordination with the Russian Federation air strikes in Syria” (which was a response to the Russian Defense Ministry's statement of January 23, 2017 about “joint actions of Russia and the International Coalition led by the United States during a strike on the extremists' positions near Al-Bab in Syria”.

Against this background, NATO continues to implement the decisions of the Warsaw Summit of NATO (July 2016) on enhancing the Alliance's military presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. January 24, 2017, the first group of German and Belgian military servicemen arrived in Lithuania. It will coordinate the deployment of a Battalion Task Force (BTF) of NATO in the Lithuanian territory. The BTF under the command of German will include 1.2 thousand military servicemen of the Armed Forces of Germany (450 military servicemen), Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway. The BTF’s dislocation place is the military base “Rukla”, located near the border (60 km) between Lithuania and Kaliningrad region of Russia.

At the same time, on 23 January 2017, in Drawa training field near the Polish city of Drawsko-Pomorskie, NATO's Joint Forces began the “Bison-2017” military exercise. 4.5 thousand military servicemen from the Rapid Deployable Corps “North-East” (Poland), and the 3rd Armored Brigade of the US Armed Forces, as well as other formations and units of NATO member countries, including Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Belgium and Estonia are taking part in the exercise. During the exercise they use in-service military equipment, including Boxer and Rosomak armored vehicles, Leopard tanks, Fennek reconnaissance vehicles, Panzerhaubitze-2000 self-propelled howitzers, F-16 and Su-22 aircraft and Mi-24 helicopters (Poland's Air Force).


3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. US President D. Trump shows a firm intention to fulfill his election campaign promises in the spheres of economy and security. Thus, within the first week D. Trump signed decrees and orders on the following matters: strengthening and restructuring of the Armed Forces; exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership; suspending the reception of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen; detection and deportation of illegal migrants; construction of a protection wall on the US border with Mexico; lifting the ban on the construction of pipelines from Alaska and Canada to American refineries; limiting the US Environmental Protection Agency's work.

However, taking into consideration D. Trump's pre-election statements about the possibility of revising the sanctions against Russia, the US Congress is taking measures to prevent the exercise of such steps. For example, on the initiative of Senator Charles Schumer, they have drafted a bill that prohibits the US President to cancel any sanctions against Russia without the consent of Congress. The bill is supported by the parliamentary representatives of both US parties. Besides, the Congress has introduced a bill that would prohibit the US President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. According to the authors of the bill, it should “contain D. Trump's expansive actions, which may lead to a violation of the global stability in the world”.

However, D. Trump's political opponents continue pressure on him. For this purpose they use various kinds of reasons, including the elements of his illegal business activities. In particular, the Washington advocacy group “Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington” (CREW) is preparing a lawsuit against D. Trump for violation of the provisions of the US Constitution, prohibiting him to receive money from foreign governments. In this context, the CREW refers to the fact of D. Trump's preserving his ownership of the private corporation doing business with foreign countries.

Besides, the mayors of several cities in the USA, including of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle refuse to carry out D. Trump's decree making them cooperate with Washington in detection and deportation of illegal migrants.

Germany. As part of the policy of containing Putin's regime, Germany's government opposes the possibility of any “deals” with Russia at the expense of the interests of Ukraine. January 23, 2017, Minister of Defence of Germany, Ursula von der Lyayen rejected the possibility of Germany's supporting US President D. Trump's initiatives on lifting sanctions against Russia in exchange for a reduction of its nuclear weapons. According to her, the sanctions can be lifted only with Moscow's full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

France. In contrast, the main candidates for the post of the president of France come out with populist positions of the pro-Russian character. During the Forum in Berlin, organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the candidate for the French presidency F. Fillon (former Prime Minister of the country) called for the need to “return to a more close and open dialogue with Russia”. He criticized the signing of the Agreement on the association of Ukraine with the EU, and spoke against the possibility of taking Ukraine into NATO. At the same time, according to F. Fillon, “...France should not show weakness in front of Russia”.

At the same time, F. Fillon's opponents have intensified actions to discredit him and to undermine his electoral positions. Thus, the French Prosecutor's Office opened an investigation into F. Fillon's involvement in corrupt activities (fictitious employment of his wife in the country's parliament). Earlier, a similar investigation was launched against another pro-Russian presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.


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

Romania. Recently the political situation in Romania has been getting complicated due to increasing disagreements between the National Liberal Party (NLP), led by the country's President K. Johannis and the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP), which won the parliamentary elections in December 2016. A manifestation of this is the spread of protests against the Romanian government's (controlled by SDS) plans to soften the anti-corruption laws with simultaneous amnesty for the jailed corrupt officials.

The deeper reason for this situation may be the sharpening of the struggle in the political leadership between the supporters of Romania's solid NLP course to deepen the country's integration into the NATO/EU and the supporters of the Social Democratic Party, advocating establishment of relations with Russia. At this, after losing the election, the NLP is trying to restore its positions.

Bulgaria. January 22, 2017 the new Bulgarian President R. Radev (representative of the Socialist Party) was inaugurated. In his pre-election statements R. Radev advocated closer ties with Russia and lifting sanctions against it. However, in his inaugural speech, he stressed the need to strengthen Bulgaria's European integration process and the absence of alternatives to this course of the country.

Moldova. In his turn, the new President of Moldova I. Dodon continues the policy of rapprochement with Russia. Thus, according to I. Dodon's statements, in February this year, during a meeting with the NATO leadership he intends to raise the question of cancelling the prior agreement on opening the NATO's Liaison Office in Chisinau. Besides, I. Dodon plans to propose to Brussels to sign an agreement on “NATO's recognition of Moldova's neutrality”. However, in order to avoid accusations of his openly pro-Russian position on the part of his political opponents, I. Dodon spoke also for the “withdrawal of foreign troops from the territory of Trans-Dniester, as the main precondition for the political settlement of the Trans-Dniester conflict”.

I. Dodon also has made efforts to strengthen his positions in Moldova. In particular, he announced plans to start preparing a referendum on expanding the powers of the leader of the state, including granting him the right to dissolve parliament. By this he counts on the victory of the left and pro-Russian forces also in the highest legislative body of the country. In response, the Liberal Party of Moldova has decided to bring before Parliament the issue of I. Dodon's impeachment.


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

Statements and the first practical steps of the new President of the United States D. Trump and members of his administration confirm the virtually unchanged US policy on the Russian and Ukrainian directions. Given this, we should expect Moscow to concentrate efforts on ensuring such changes in the policy of the European Union.

To achieve this goal, Russia will activate measures to influence the electoral process in the EU, especially in France and Germany. At this, taking into consideration the pro-Russian position of both the main candidates for the post of the President of France — F. Fillon and Marine Le Pen, the main Kremlin's efforts will be directed at Germany. As before, the main direction of such Russia's efforts will be to undermine the positions of the Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel on the eve of parliamentary elections in the country this autumn.

In this context, Moscow will exploit the major problems in the EU and Germany, in particular the aggravation of the “migration crisis” in Europe due to the activation of the armed confrontation in the conflict zones in the Near and Middle East. To make this problem even worse, Russia could increase its interference with the internal conflict in Syria. In particular, an evidence of this was the massive strike with the participation of six aircrafts of the long-range (bombardment) aviation of the Russian VKS on the positions of the Assad regime's opponents in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor on 23 January 2017 (against the background of the negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition in Astana /Kazakhstan/).

At this, opportunities for Russia's actions to undermine the unity of the EU are being created by the positions of the newly elected PACE President Pedro Agramunt and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland, who in fact speak from pro-Russian positions.

At the same time, experience has shown that pro-Russian slogans and statements, which are used by some Western politicians in their election campaigns are mainly populist in nature and are not always put into practice. Besides, the guiding principles of the government of Western countries and international agencies actually exclude the possibility of the sole influence on their positions and activities.


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

Ukraine's firm position on the rejection of Russian terms of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas make V. Putin's regime seek new ways to solve the “Ukrainian issue”. In this respect, we should not rule out Russia's possible demonstrative steps to simulate its implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This will be used by Moscow as a pretext for raising the question of lifting sanctions against the Russian Federation.

An evidence of Russia's practical implementation of this approach are the Russian media's reports on the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the occupied territories of the Donbas. Based on the above-mentioned estimates, Russia can really take such a step, and “confirm” it through the OSCE monitoring mission in the Donbas.

However, this in no way will mean a real change in Russia's position, or its concessions to the peace plan. Russian troops will be on the border of Ukraine and at any time may be returned to the territory of the Donbas in case of a slightest threat to the existence of the “DPR” and “LPR”.


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

Taking into consideration the change of power in the United States and spread of pro-Russian sentiments in the EU, of great importance for Ukraine is the course of the West's future policy on the Ukrainian and Russian directions. After the World Economic Forum in Davos and the beginning of the winter session of the PACE, the next indicator of such a policy will be the Munich Security Conference on 17-19 February 2017.

In this context, illustrative is Russian President V. Putin's refusal to participate in the Conference. This confirms the continuation of the deep disagreements between Russia and the West, as well as the failure of Moscow's efforts to change the West's attitude to it. Based on this, we should expect confirmation of the western countries' support to Ukraine, which will contribute to the strengthening of its international positions.

Besides, important indicators of the West's policy can become the EU summit in Malta and the meeting of the NATO's Defense Ministers in February.