February 27, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 08(39)/02

 

LAST WEEK'S KEY FACTORS AND MAIN TRENDS
IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SITUATION AROUND UKRAINE
(February 20–26, 2017)

 

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

February 20, 2017 is the third anniversary of the victory of the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, which opened a new era in the historical development of our country. Despite all the problems, Ukraine has eventually come out of the “gray zone” between the East and the West and has taken a clear course to join NATO and the EU.

Third Anniversary of Ukraine's Revolution of DignityThird Anniversary of Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity

This day three years ago, V. Putin's regime started its armed aggression against Ukraine in order to prevent the European prospects of our State. Such actions of Moscow have radically changed the situation in the world, which, in fact, has returned to the state of a “cold war” between Russia and the West. At this, Russia has taken the place of the former USSR as a new “Evil empire”.

In the above-mentioned situation, as in the case with the Soviet Union, a significant factor of deterring Moscow's neo-imperial policy has become the tough position of the US, NATO and the EU in terms of a coherent policy of pressure on Russia. The constancy of this policy has been confirmed during the Munich Security Conference from 17–19 February, as well as a follow-up of Western countries.

Thus, on 20 February 2017, the US Department of State issued a special statement on the next anniversary of the victory of “Maydan”, which pointed out the significant progress made by Ukraine in the state development and building a democratic society. At the same time it stressed the USA's intention to continue to provide comprehensive assistance to Ukraine.

Illustrative were also speeches of the USA's Ambassador to the UN — N. Haley and of the UK's — M. Rycroft of 21 February, 2017, during the initiated by Ukraine the UN Security Council 's meeting on unresolved conflicts in Europe. For example, commenting on the issue, N. Haley called Russia's actions to destabilize Ukraine — “...one of the most serious challenges for the whole of Europe”. At this, she stated that it is impossible to improve relations between the USA and Russia at the expense of the interests of Ukraine. Besides, the US representative confirmed the immutability of Washington's intentions to fulfill their obligations to NATO, which was called “the most powerful alliance in the world”. In turn, according to M. Rycroft, the EU and the countries of the “Group of Seven” (G7) will continue pressure on Russia to make it fully implement the Minsk Agreements.

On February 23, US President D. Trump announced plans to strengthen the USA's nuclear potentialOn February 23, US President D. Trump announced plans to strengthen the USA's nuclear potential

Against this background, another crushing blow to the prospects for recovery of the Russian-USA relations was caused by US President D. Trump. On 23 February, 2017 (immediately after the celebration of Russia's “Day of Defender of the Fatherland” which is traditionally accompanied by intensification of war hysteria in the Russian Federation), he announced intention to strengthen the USA's nuclear potential to restore the United States' leadership positions. In that context, D. Trump pointed out the fact of Russia's deployment of new missile systems in violation of the US-Russian Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF). Besides, D. Trump criticized the agreement between Russia and the United States on Measures for Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-3), calling it “not meeting the USA's interests”.

These developments indicate a complete failure of the Putin regime's efforts to influence the position of Western countries and international organizations through the use of hidden political, diplomatic, special and informational activities, including interference with the US Presidential elections.

Besides, the Russian Foreign Ministry demonstrated its inability to ensure the implementation of Russian interests in the external sphere, including within the framework of the UN Security Council. In this respect quite revealing was the “sudden” death of the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations V. Churkin — chief conductor of total lies of the Putin regime's policy. Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations became the sixth Russian diplomat, who have passed away in different parts of the world over the past three months. According to some estimates, this to some extent reminds of the massive “cleansing” of the leaders of the Russian terrorists in the Donbas, who also had not been up to Moscow's hopes for a quick solution of the “Ukrainian issue”.

At the same time, the positions of the USA, NATO and the EU make Russia face a critical dilemma — to continue the armed aggression against Ukraine, despite Western sanctions, or to go to the concessions in terms of implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Obviously, none of these options is acceptable for Moscow, because in the first case, it would mean a collapse of Russia's economy, and in the second — V. Putin's regime's political death.

In view of this, there is Russia's transition to a more active policy of influence on Ukraine in order to force us to perform Russia's terms of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas.

In this context, the main focus of the Kremlin's efforts is to create preconditions for early parliamentary elections in Ukraine by the summer of this year. Thus, according to the Security Service of Ukraine, to this end, it is planned to destabilize the situation in our country, according to the scenario of the “third Maydan”. In particular, the evidence of this is Russia's attempts to sharpen the situation around the issue of the activists' blockade of the occupied territories of the Donbas, and to split the political forces of the ruling coalition in Ukraine.

Besides, Russia is increasing pressure on Ukraine in terms of demonstrating the possibility of recognition of the “DPR” and “LPR”, as well as their support. That is the purpose pursued by the presidential decree on the recognition of passports and other documents of the self-proclaimed republics (the decision was taken as part of a larger Russian program on simplification of procedures for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the former Soviet republics; the State Duma of the Russian Federation is going to adopt this program in March, 2017).

Last week, deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation made a number of “program” statements on the issue. In particular, a State Duma deputy V. Nikonov admitted the possibility of Moscow's large-scale military-technical assistance to the “DPR” and “LPR”. In turn, Vice-Speaker of the State Duma of the Russian Federation P. Tolstoy declared “...the right of the Donbas residents to self-determination on an equal basis with the residents of the Crimea”.

The above-mentioned Moscow's policy is accompanied by strong pressure on Ukraine, demonstration of Russia's military mighty to the United States/Europe, as well as the Kremlin's actions to strengthen its positions in the Crimea and to prevent the possibility of social unrest in Russia because of the socio-economic problems.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1.The East of Ukraine (The ATO zone)

A manifestation of Moscow's policy is the intensification of Russia's combat actions in the Donbas, despite the progress made since February 18, 2017, during the meeting of the “Normandy Four” about ceasefire. Thus, on 24 February, 2017, actually along the whole front line, the Russian terrorist troops have intensified shelling of the ATO forces' positions from all types of ground weapons with an intensity of more than 100 a day. Daily Ukrainian soldiers suffer heavy losses in killed and wounded. At this, the enemy's combat actions are carried out in all directions along the front line, including the concentration of the main efforts in areas of Avdiivka, Svitlodarsk Arc and on the eastern outskirts of Mariupol.

Besides, in order to conceal its actions, the Russian side cynically creates obstacles in the activities of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) of the OSCE in the Donbas. Thus, on 24 February, 2017, militias attacked the OSCE's observers and captured a SMM drone.

On 21 February, in the Crimea were arrested about twenty activists of the Crimean Tatar peopleOn 21 February, in the Crimea were arrested about twenty activists of the Crimean Tatar people

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

As part of Moscow's policy for the elimination of potential opponents in the Crimea, the occupying administration in the Peninsula has intensified repressions against the Crimean Tatars. In particular, on 21 February, 2017 in the Crimea they arrested about twenty activists of the Crimean Tatar people, who were protesting against the illegal search of the home of the journalist A. Naumlyuk. The detainees are accused of violating the law on mass gatherings and extremism.

At the same time, Russia continues to try to attract foreign investors into the Crimea from countries that do not officially support Western sanctions against Russia. Thus, the “Legislative Assembly” of Sevastopol is preparing a “Sino-Russian tourism forum”, planned for this spring.

Moreover, February 21, 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia S. Lavrov during his meeting with Foreign Minister of Sweden M. Walters invited Swedish representatives to visit the Crimea to study the “positive changes in the Peninsula”, which have taken place after its “joining Russia”.

These Russia's actions are accompanied by demonstrations of force in the Crimean Peninsula. Thus, on the day of the 3rd anniversary of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine, there were military exercises to improve the Russian Black Sea Fleet's combat readiness. As part of the exercises, there were field campaigns and training of units of the 126th Separate Brigade of Coast Guards, 810th Separate Marine Brigade and the 8th Artillery Regiment at the “Opuk” and “Zarechnoye” training grounds. Similar events were held in the field camps of Russian troops in the north of the Crimea. They also activated the aerial reconnaissance of Ukraine's border regions.

At this, Russia does not actually conceal the fact of preliminary preparations for the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. In particular, this fact has been recognized by the so-called people's Mayor of Sevastopol — Deputy of the “Legislative Assembly” of the city A. Chalyi. According to him, the coup was planned in the Crimea back in 2004–2005 in connection with the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine.

 

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

In order to intimidate the United States and Europe, as well as in response to D. Trump's plans to strengthen the American nuclear potential, Putin's regime is returning to the active use of the theme of nuclear missile weapons in Russia. Thus, according to the RF’s Deputy Prime Minister D. Rogozin (oversees the military-industrial complex of the Russian Federation), Russia is completing the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of overcoming the US missile defense system. In the near future this system will be in service in the RF Armed Forces.

In turn, February 22, 2017, in an interview to the media Chief of the Army of the RF Armed Forces Colonel-General O. Salyukov pointed out the re-equipping most (80 %) of missile formations of the Russian Army with new operational-tactical missile complexes “Iskander-M”. According to him, within 2017, two more missile formations will be equipped with new systems.

Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu during the “government hour” in the State DumaRussian Defense Minister S. Shoigu during the “government hour” in the State Duma

Meanwhile, the build-up of the Grouping of Russian Forces on the Ukrainian direction continues. According to Russian Defense Minister S. Shoigu (during the “government hour” in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, on 22 February 2017), by the end of this year it is planned to have completed the deployment of three Motorized Rifle Divisions in Smolensk, Voronezh and Rostov regions (144th in Yelnya, 3rd in Boguchar and 150th in Novocherkassk, at the moment, military camps are being constructed).

Besides, because of the aggravation of the disagreements between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands, Russia is strengthening the grouping of the RF Armed Forces on the Eastern direction as well. This issue was discussed on 17 February 2017, during the meeting of the Board of the Russian Defense Ministry. The plans have been confirmed for deployment of a new Motorized Rifle Division in the Kuril Islands. To cover the islands and bases of the Pacific Fleet (in particular, the places of deployment of the 10th and 25th Submarine Divisions, include ballistic missile Borey-class submarines), measures are taken to re-equip coastal units with the new anti-ship missile systems “Bastion”.

The Russian Federation's Armed Forces are increasing their ability to conduct wars in the information space. Thus, based on the experience of modern wars and armed conflicts, in Ukraine and Syria, Russia's leadership has decided to create Information Operations Troops.

Against this background, as part of Moscow's actions aimed at countering the process of strengthening NATO's military presence on the Eastern direction, it is planned to organize provocations against the Alliance's units arriving in the countries of Central-Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. In particular, according to the Estonian Information Board, Estonian pro-Russian movements are preparing conflicts (including fights and brawls in the streets and in entertainment centres) between the local population and the British military unit, which is being deployed on the territory of the country.

At the same time, the Russian Federation's leadership intensifies measures for economic pressure on Ukraine and its Western partners. February 22, 2017, the Russian State Duma adopted in the first reading the draft law № 21966-7, which prohibits citizens' direct transfers of money to Ukraine. Under the new rules, the transfer of money will be possible only through bank accounts. According to Russian legislators, these changes are meant to “eliminate the negative effects of the ban on the activities of Russian payment systems on the territory of Ukraine”.

In turn, in order to strengthen the counter-sanctions regime against foreign states, the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation has prepared a draft law on the prohibition of selling/buying in Russia of sanction goods coming from other member states of the Eurasian Economic Union.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

In response to another increase in the aggressiveness of Putin's regime's policy, Western countries and international organizations continue consistent implementation of the strategy of containing Russia.

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. February 23, 2017, the Lower House of the Netherlands' Parliament approved the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. The vote in the Upper House (the Senate) is expected to take place after the planned elections for the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament next month. The majority of Dutch experts forecast a positive decision on this issue. This will complete the process of adoption of the Agreement and will allow to proceed to its practical implementation in full.

About a thousand of American soldiers will be sent to North-Eastern Poland (Orzysz)About a thousand of American soldiers will be sent to North-Eastern Poland (Orzysz)

NATO. In terms of implementation of the decision of the Warsaw summit of NATO to strengthen the Alliance's military presence in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, last week was completed the relocation to Lithuania of German military unit. The NATO's Battalion Tactical Group in the country will include 450 military servicemen of the German Armed Forces with standard equipment, including the Leopard-2 tanks and Marder armored vehicles.

Besides, according to the United States European Command, in April 2017, about a thousand of American soldiers with military equipment will be additionally sent to North-Eastern Poland (Orzysz).

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

Lieutenant General Herbert McMaster will replace Michael Flynn as the US President's National Security AdviserLieutenant General Herbert McMaster will replace Michael Flynn as the US President's National Security Adviser

The USA. The USA's leadership has confirmed the country's turning to pragmatic policy towards Russia on the basis of its own interests. Thus, on 20 February 2017, instead of Michael Flynn who has rather compromised himself with unauthorized ties with Russia, as the US President's National Security Adviser was appointed retired General Herbert McMaster. The new Adviser to D. Trump is a General with combat experience (participated in the USA's operations in Iraq and Afghanistan) and a supporter of a firm policy towards Moscow. In particular, in his statements, Mr. McMaster has repeatedly pointed out not strong enough reaction of the world community (the United States included) to Russia's annexation of the Crimea and the Kremlin's inciting the armed conflict in the Donbas.

Besides, the US leading political forces' support to Ukraine was demonstrated during the US-Ukraine Security Conference, organized in mid-February 2017 by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. In the conference participated the ex-Chief of the SBU I. Smeshko, who made a presentation on the restoration of the combat capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to the level of guaranteed protection of the country from Russia's possible full-scale aggression. At this, I. Smeshko stressed the USA's understanding the nature of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine as of the war against the entire Western world and the great potential of cooperation between the USA and Ukraine, including in the defense sector.

Evidence of this is the increasing number of American politicians and experts who stand for providing Ukraine with lethal weapons. In particular, on 22 February 2017, Senator D. Durbin and Congressman M. Quigley from the Democratic Party called on the US administration to make every effort to ensure the defense of Ukraine, including providing it with weapons and military equipment. The need for this was justified by Russia's continuing military aggression against Ukraine in the Donbas.

These facts cause negative reaction and irritation of the Russian Federation's leadership, who call them manifestations of “Washington's Russophobian policy” that “creates a substantial threat to the prospects for improving the US-Russian relations”.

France. Developments in France are evidence of actual failure of Russia's plans to influence the results of elections of the head of the French state. Thus, according to sociological studies, in the second round of presidential elections in France can be centrist E. Macron and the leader of the pro-Russian “National Front” M. Le Pen. At this, E. Makron's rating is by 15 % higher than that of his rival.

According to experts, the reason for such weakening of M. Le Pen and other pro-Russian candidates' positions is the investigation into their corrupt activities by law enforcement agencies of France.

The United Kingdom. Despite Great Britain's special attitude to the EU, the government continues to demonstrate solidarity with the United States and the European Union in matters of putting pressure on Russia. February 21, 2017, the House of Commons of the British Parliament approved a bill providing for “freezing” the assets and introduction of visa restrictions against persons accused of human rights violations (an analogue of the so-called Magnitsky's Act adopted in the USA in 2012). First of all, it refers to Russian officials involved in Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine.

 

IV. Other Important Trends and Developments that Will Have an Impact on Ukraine's National Interests

Russia. In the context of the deterioration of the economic situation in the country, the Russian Federation's leadership intensifies measures to prevent the possibility of social unrest in the country. To this end, it has intensified persecution of leaders and activists of the main opposition parties and protest movements in Russia.

Thus, on the eve of the All-Russian Congress of Farmers in Moscow, February 21, 2017, the Russian Federation law enforcement agencies initiated a criminal case against the leader of the “Friendly Farmers” protest movement A. Volchenko for “bribery”. Besides, February 20, 2017, the search was carried out in the Moscow office of the party “Other Russia”, several of its activists were detained.

Despite this, opposition forces in Russia intensify their activity. In particular, the “New Opposition” movement is planning to carry out systematic protests in Moscow and other cities of the Russian Federation under economic and political slogans. In preparation for such actions, they are trying to organize interaction between the “New opposition” and other protest movements, including farmers, truckers and coal workers.

Romania. Mass protests in Romania against the Romanian government's decisions to ease anti-corruption legislation forced the Parliament to cancel the decision. In fact, it was the first political failure of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP), which won (with Russia's hidden support) the parliamentary elections in December 2016.

The Karabakh conflict zoneThe Karabakh conflict zone

Azerbaijan-Armenia. On the night of February 25, between the Azerbaijani armed forces and forces of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, there was an armed clash.

According to the official Baku, “...Armenian forces attempted to invade the territory of Azerbaijan along the line of the conflict on Karabakh”, killing several Azerbaijani soldiers.

However, the Armenian Defense Ministry announced about the Azerbaijani's attempted attack on the positions of Karabakh separatists and accused Baku of spreading misinformation and trying to derail the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict.

At the same time, the so-called Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said that their forces had repelled the enemy's attack.

The confrontation between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh continues from the beginning of the 1990s. Last sharp exacerbation of the conflict took place in April last year, taking the lives of more than a hundred people on both sides.

 

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

The Analysis of Russia's actions allows us to refine previously made forecast of the direction of Moscow's policy to implement its geopolitical goals in relation to Ukraine. Thus, in March and April 2017, Moscow's main efforts will be focused on provoking political tension in Ukraine with a view to unleashing a parliamentary crisis in our country in the second half of this year's spring. At a minimum, it will allow the Kremlin to declare “the failure of Ukraine to ensure the implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” and then “groundlessness of the continuation of sanctions against Russia”. As a maximum — Moscow plans to create preconditions for early parliamentary elections in Ukraine.

Against this background, we should expect complicated relations between Russia and the US/NATO/EU, accompanied by activities of mutual pressure, including military power demonstrations. In turn, this will lead to further increased tensions and intensification of military activity around Ukraine.

At the same time, Russia's actions to destabilize the situation in Ukraine would in no way guarantee their success. Considering this, there is a high probability of continuation of the West's sanctions against Russia in June this year. Given these prospects, the Putin regime will continue steps to prevent the possibility of the crisis processes in Russia by strengthening the police regime, and taking emergency measures to support Russia's economy. In particular, evidence of the critical state of the economic situation in Russia is the Russian government's decision on the possibility of access of foreign investors to the military-industrial complex of Russia.

 

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

The main factor influencing the development of the situation in the conflict zones on the territory of Ukraine will be the above-mentioned direction of Russia's actions regarding our state. Thus, in order to put pressure on Ukraine, Putin's regime will continue armed provocations in the Donbas, despite any peace agreements. Besides, Moscow will continue to block the development and adoption of the “road map” for implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Apart from this, Russia may withdraw from the Minsk negotiation process using such a step as a means for putting pressure on the leadership of Ukraine and distracting its efforts in case of riots in Ukraine. In particular, the reality of this threat was confirmed by the Secretary General of the OSCE L. Zannier during the UN Security Council's meeting on unresolved conflicts in Europe on 21 February, 2017. A similar opinion was expressed by the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany S. Gabriel, who recognized the actual inefficiency of all, even the “most intense” negotiations to resolve the situation in the Donbas.

 

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude JunckerPresident of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker

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

The European Union's leadership is improving the EU's development strategy taking into consideration the changes in the military-political situation in the world and Europe. For example, next week, the European Commission plans to present the concept of future activities of the Organization. On 24 February, 2017, the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled the main approaches of this document, which provide for turning to a more liberal model of the functioning of the United Europe. In particular, this concerns the possibility of granting the EU Member States the right to determine the level of their integration in a single community. However, according to J.-C. Juncker, to date, none of the candidate countries is ready for EU membership, so the next phase of enlargement of the European Union will take place not sooner than 2020.

 

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