April 17, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 15(46)/04

 

LAST WEEK'S KEY FACTORS AND MAIN TRENDS
IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SITUATION AROUND UKRAINE
(April 10–16, 2017)

 

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

The development of the situation around Ukraine remains in the focus of leading countries that demonstrate support to our country in its confrontation with Russia. Thus, the Ukrainian issue was one of the main topics at the meeting of G7 Foreign Ministers on 10–11 April 2017 in the Italian city of Lucca.

The result of the negotiations was a joint communiqué confirming Moscow's responsibility for the conflict in the East of Ukraine. Given this, intentions were expressed to extend the sanctions against Russia to its fulfillment Minsk agreements. Besides, it was stressed that the “Big Seven” does not recognize Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

G7 Foreign Ministers Meeting on April 11–12 in ItalyG7 Foreign Ministers Meeting on April 11–12 in Italy

G7 members welcomed the success of the leadership of Ukraine in conducting institutional and administrative reforms, and expressed their firm intention to continue to assist Ukraine in this sphere. However, representatives of the “Big Seven” pointed out the need to intensify fighting corruption in Ukraine (without harming the civil society), as well as to ensure real positive results of reforms in the Ukrainian society.

G7 members' special attention was paid to Syria — in particular, to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against the rebels. The participants of the meeting perceived this fact as a crime against humanity and condemned Russia's actions in support of the Syrian government. At the same time the parties did not agree on sanctions against Russia over the Syrian issue and expressed hopes for the possibility of cooperation with Russia in resolving the conflict in Syria. A firmer position was demonstrated by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called on the leadership of Russia “to make clear choices about Syria and decide whom Russia sides with — the USA and its allies or B. Assad's regime and Iran”.

 

US Secretary of State R. Tillerson traveled to Moscow on April 11–12US Secretary of State R. Tillerson traveled to Moscow
on April 11–12

Immediately after the meeting of G7 — 11–12 April R. Tillerson travelled to Moscow to clarify the USA and Russia's positions on most problematic aspects of their relationship. Thus, the main topics of the US Secretary of State's talks with Russian President V. Putin and Foreign Minister S. Lavrov were the conflict in Syria and the situation around Moscow's interference with the presidential elections in the USA and the Kremlin's attempts to influence the EU's politics.

At this, according to sources close to the negotiations, the parties demonstrated not only different points of view on these issues, but in general completely different seeing of the world. Moreover, the Russian side accused D. Trump of not fulfilling his election promises in terms of improving relations with Russia. At the same time, in response to the USA's accusing Moscow of supporting B. Assad's regime in Syria, the Russian Federation's leadership reminded about the United States' military operations in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

According to the press service of the Russian President, the Ukrainian issue was not discussed in detail. The obvious reason for this was the parties' understanding that no compromise could be reached over Ukraine. On the eve of his visit to Moscow, R. Tillerson expressed Washington's firm position on the impossibility of solving any problem between the USA and Russia at the expense of Ukraine's interests.

Despite the USA and Russia's representatives' statements on the “success of a dialogue” the talks ended without breakthrough results. The parties reached a “cosmetic” agreement to create a working group to consider the problems in the US-Russian relations.

In fact, the results of the meeting were announced in the statements of the Presidents of Russia and the United States made in the margins of the negotiations. Thus, commenting on these issues, V. Putin pointed out the deterioration of relations between Russia and the United States after D. Trump's coming to power. At the same time, within the framework of demonstration of steadfastness of its positions, Russia's leadership blocked the UN Security Council's resolution concerning the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

In turn, during a press conference on 12 April, Donald Trump pointed out the extremely low level of cooperation between the two countries and uncertain prospects for establishing cooperation between them. At this, President Trump expressed a firm intention to keep US sanctions against Russia until Moscow's complete fulfillment of the Minsk Agreements and returning the Crimea to Ukraine.

According to the New York Times, “if a few weeks ago critics of D. Trump's administration were concerned about a possibility of lifting of US sanctions against Russia, now they have nothing to worry about”.

 

Against this background, in Russia there continue the protests of the opposition and representatives of other segments of the population dissatisfied with government policy. Like before, most large-scale and organized are the strikes of the drivers and owners of heavy vehicles who oppose raising the fee for using roads.

The main center of the truckers’ activity in Russia remains DagestanThe main center of the truckers’ activity in Russia
remains Dagestan

The main center of the truckers' activity remains Dagestan, where the situation is becoming especially sharp. The reason for this is the high proportion of the population of the republic, which works in the transport sector, and thus suffers losses from the actions of the Russian government. Thus, the Dagestani drivers do not agree to any compromise with local authorities and demand a meeting with RF Prime Minister D. Medvedev. Moreover, the truckers from Dagestan are the driving force of the protests in other southern regions of Russia. In particular, Dagestani drivers participate in strikes of truckers in Rostov region of the Russian Federation, the Stavropol Territory, North Ossetia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Ingushetia.

Apart from the truckers' strike, in the Rostov region of Russia there continue protests of workers of coal mining industry of the country due to delays of wages (not paid since mid-2015). Thus, according to the decision of the union of miners of Gukovo, if the government does not solve the said problem, an indefinite hunger strike will begin on 20 April.

According to Russian sociologists, protest moods grow in other strata of the Russian population and spread to other regions of the country. First of all, in Volga region and Primorye region of Russia. In particular, at the conference of representatives of small and middle-size business in Volgograd, it was decided to move to active actions to protect the rights of entrepreneurs. The organizer of the protests is “Volgograd Association of Entrepreneurs”, which unites more than 20 thousand people. At the moment is being discussed a possibility of switching to more radical measures, including an all-city strike.

At the same time, different political forces are getting united in opposing the socio-economic policy of the Russian government and local authorities. In particular, on 9 April 2017 in the center of Volgograd there was a meeting of representatives of local branches of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, “Progress Party” (leader A. Navalnyy), “Yabloko” and the Union of Russian Nationalists. The main demands included a regional referendum on the new Social Code, revision of communal tariffs and cancellation of the transport reform. According to statements of the leaders of Volgograd opposition, if the government refuses to fulfill their demands, they will move to political slogans on the resignation of city and regional Dumas (Councils).

All this is being carefully concealed by Russia's government, which has banned the national and regional media coverage of the protests. Besides, plans are considered to strengthen measures against the opposition. In particular, 11 April 2017, representatives of the ruling party “United Russia” introduced to the RF State Duma a bill that would expand police officers' powers, including giving them permission to use firearms against “participants of unrest”.

Despite this, local legislative bodies of a number of Russian regions have already shown solidarity with the demands of participants of protest movements. Thus, at the initiative of Deputies from the Communist Party, the Republican Parliament of Tatarstan is preparing an appeal to the State Duma of the Russian Federation to cancel the increase in the tariff for the use of motorways.

 

II. Russia's Military Aggression against Ukraine

Despite the obvious impossibility of compromise between Russia and the West over the Ukrainian issue, the leadership of the Russian Federation does not give up its attempts to involve the United States in putting pressure on Ukraine from the positions of Moscow. Thus, on 12 April 2017, Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov urged the United States to influence Ukraine over the issue of preventing “forceful Ukrainization of the Donbas”.

Also hoping for a favorable political situation for itself, Russia is deliberately delaying the process of settlement of the conflict in the East of Ukraine. One example of this was the lack of actual results of the next meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk on 12 April 2017. In fact, the parties only confirmed the agreement on cease-fire during the celebration of Easter on 16 April 2017.

 

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO Zone)

The nature and goals of Russia's policy towards Ukraine are fully confirmed by the situation in the conflict zone in the Donbas. Thus, despite the agreement on ceasefire, Russian-terrorist forces continue shelling the ATO forces' positions and peaceful settlements, including using heavy weapons prohibited by peace agreements.

However, a significant problem in the occupied territories is the continued worsening of the economic situation in the region after the “nationalization” of Ukrainian enterprises by the “DPR” and “LPR”. To solve this problem the leadership of the breakaway republics is seeking opportunities to create favorable investment conditions in the territories under their control, as well as access to foreign markets outside Ukraine.

However, the real situation shows the complete futility of such hopes. Thus, the indefinite status of the breakaway republics and the continuation of the armed confrontation in the conflict zone makes investments into their economies impossible. Besides, coal, the main products of the “DPR” and “LPR”, cannot compete with solid fuel, not only in foreign markets, but also in Russia. Evidence of this is bankruptcy of similar coal mining enterprises in the neighboring Rostov region of Russia, in particular, of “Kingcoal”. At this, Russia has no money to even support its own miners in the South of the country, let alone the “DPR”/”LPR”.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

Arrests of the Crimean Tatars in Bakhchysarai, 12 AprilArrests of the Crimean Tatars in Bakhchysarai, 12 April

The authorities of the Crimean Peninsula continue repressions against all potential opponents of the Putin regime. Thus, they continue arrests of the Crimean Tatars on suspicion of “involvement in terrorist activities”. In particular, last week at the above-mentioned pretext 8 people were detained in Bakhchysarai.

At the same time Russian leadership is making efforts to create the impression of “international recognition of the Crimea's belonging to Russia” and to attract foreign investments into the Crimean economy. At the invitation of the RF government, on 10–15 April 2017, the Crimea was visited by a group Spanish “politicians and businessmen” who were shown the “Crimea's winemaking capabilities, catering and resort tourism, and construction industries”. Besides, there were meetings with the Crimean “business community”. The “delegation” as always included representatives of all sorts of marginal parties and movements, including President of the National Assembly of Andalusia of the Kingdom of Spain P. Altamirano and Federal Coordinator of the National Party of Andalusia S. Urbano.

However, the true attitude of the international community to the issue of the Crimea's “belonging to Russia” was shown by the organizers of the international exhibition of wine production in Verona who refused to place the Crimean wine production under the brand “Made in Russia”. This fact is especially significant given the nature of the alleged “partnership” between Russia and Italy.

 

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

Since the beginning of April 2017, in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation there has been the final test for winter training. At this, in the situation of Russia's military aggression against Ukraine and strained relations between Russia and the West, the main theme of maneuvers and exercises of the RF Armed Forces are mastering different versions of Russia's military conflicts with Ukraine, the United States and NATO. The last week's main events were as follows:

On the Northern (Arctic) direction — control test of the 45th Army of the Air Forces and Air Defense Forces of the VKS (subordinated to the Northern Fleet). Special attention was paid to checking combat readiness of the units of Air Forces and Air Defense, as well as to assessing the level of their interaction with other forces of the Northern Fleet. In particular, practical measures were conducted to fulfill the tasks of Air Defense of sea bases and to cover the Northern Fleet's ships at sea. In total, about 200 pieces of military equipment, including MiG-29K and Su-33 deck fighters, MiG-31 fighter-interceptors and S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems;

On the North-Eastern (Baltic) direction — firing from warships and submarines of the Baltic Fleet. In particular, on 8 April 2017, from the board of the diesel-electric submarine “Krasnodar” a missile was launched against a surface target in the Baltic Sea. Before that — at the beginning of April, on the Baltic direction were conducted joint exercises for the airborne troops of Russia and Belarus, as well as Marine Corps of the RF Armed Forces on the subject of offensive actions against the Baltic states;

Tactical training of units of the 106th Airborne Division of the RF Armed ForcesTactical training of units of the 106th Airborne Division of the RF Armed Forces

On the Western (Central European) direction — tactical flight training of aviation units of the 105th Combined Aviation Division (HQ in Voronezh) of the 6th Army of Air Forces and Air Defense (HQ in St. Petersburg, subordinated to the Western MD of the RF Armed Forces). During the training, crews of frontline bombers Su-34 under the cover of MiG-29SMT and MiG-31BM (all in all — 20 bombers and 10 fighters) were mastering maneuvers at low and medium altitudes, practical bombing of ground targets (on “Pogonovo” training ground in Voronezh region of the RF), as well as evading the enemy's AD systems. The flights were carried out in the airspace of Voronezh, Kursk and Tver regions of Russia in difficult weather conditions, day and night using visual control and guidance stations;

On the South-Western (Black Sea) direction — tactical training of formations and units of the 32nd Army Corps of the Coastal Defense Troops of Black Sea Fleet on the training ground Opuk in the occupied Crimea. As part of the training, they mastered joint combat actions of units of the 126th Separate Brigade of Coastal Defense, 810th Separate Marine Brigade and 8th Artillery Regiment of Coastal Defense Troops. In fact, the trainings of the 32nd Army Corps were a continuation of trainings of the Airborne Troops of the RF Armed Forces, which were held in the Crimea at the end of March.

Besides, within the framework of the control checks of Airborne Troops of the RF Armed Forces was conducted tactical training of units of the 106th Airborne Division (HQ in Tula). At the training ground Dubrovychi (Ryazan region) they mastered actions of the Battalion Tactical Group from the 137th Airborne Regiment (Ryazan) of the 106th Airborne Division to capture and retain the forward defense line till the approach of the main forces. The feature of the study was the use of a new battalion set of armored landing vehicles BMD-4M and BTR-MDM “Rakushka”.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

The European Union. Unlike the “old” EU member states, countries of Central and Eastern Europe are in favor of continuing the process of enlargement of the European Union. Thus, after the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad Four (Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Hungary) a statement was issued on the need to provide clear EU membership prospects for the participants in the program “Eastern Partnership”, who are interested in this. It was proposed to include this provision in the declaration of the “Eastern Partnership” summit which is scheduled for November this year in Brussels.

Joint Press Conference of President D. Trump and NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg, 12 AprilJoint Press Conference of President D. Trump and NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg, 12 April

NATO. The USA and NATO demonstrate a common position on the Alliance as the main guarantor of the Western world's security. This was confirmed at the joint press conference of US President D. Trump and NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg on 12 April 2017 in Washington. D. Trump and J. Stoltenberg expressed significant concern about Russia's actions in Ukraine and in the Middle East (particularly in Syria) and the Russian Federation's growing military activity on the Western direction. Besides, they pointed out the growth of terrorist threats to the USA and Europe.

The problem of intensification of Russia's military activities was also discussed during the Kyiv Security Forum with the participation of Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller. According to the representative of the Alliance, the intensity of Russia's military exercises and its Navy's activities exceeds similar showings of the “cold war” period.

In response, NATO continues to take measures for increasing the presence of the Alliance in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Baltic region, and conducts operational and combat trainings to master repulsing Russia's possible aggression. For example, on 5–16 June 2017 in Latvia there will be the largest for the last 25 years, NATO's Allied Forces' exercises “Siber Strike”.

 

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during the press briefing in Washington, April 10White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during the press briefing in Washington, April 10

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. The US administration has demonstrated firm intention to implement key directions of foreign policy, declared by D. Trump during his election campaign. According to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statement at the press conference on 10 April 2017, Washington's main goal is to protect the United States' national economic and security interests in the world arena. In this regard, the main slogan of the White House remains “America above all!”.

At the same time, Sean Spicer did not rule out the possibility of the USA's new strikes on Syrian government forces in case of their using chemical weapons against civilians.

 

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

Russia — post-Soviet territories. Moscow's aggressive policy, as well as the growing confrontation between Russia and the West cause further intensification of centrifugal processes in the former Soviet Union's territories, including in Russia's Eurasian Union. Thus, according to Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Energy of Georgia K. Kaladze by the end of this year Tbilisi intends to stop buying gas from Russia and to fully satisfy the country's needs through gas supplies from Azerbaijan. Addressing this issue will contribute to the completion of gas storage facilities in Georgia. These plans confirm the trend of Russia's losing its role of a “great world power” and the possibilities of using the energy factor as a tool of Moscow's foreign policy.

In his turn, President of Kazakhstan N. Nazarbayev initiated giving up the Cyrillic and returning to the Latin alphabet in the writing in the country (used until 1940). The introduction of the Latin alphabet is scheduled for 2025, but in the next year textbooks the Kazakh language will be presented in the Latin alphabet. The implementation of these intentions will help Kazakhstan exit Russia's cultural field and thus reduce Moscow's influence on the Kazakh society.

 

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 positions of the “Big Seven” on Russia and Ukraine, which were shown in Italy, the results of US Secretary of State R. Tillerson's meeting with the leadership of Russia and another aggravation of confrontation between Moscow and the West over Syria, confirm the hopelessness of the Kremlin's position. In fact, Russia has become a pariah state — along with Iran and North Korea, which has openly been acknowledged in the world.

In such a situation, extremely relevant for the Putin regime is the question of getting new opportunities to restore dialogue between Russia and the West on the grounds of mutually important issues. In particular, to this end, the leadership of Russia will actively use the visit of German Chancellor A. Merkel to Moscow, scheduled for early May this year at the invitation of the Russian side. Thus, during the negotiations, V. Putin may put forward a proposal about Russia's support to A. Merkel's positions in the parliamentary elections in Germany this autumn in exchange for Berlin's assistance in implementing Russian interests regarding Ukraine.

Besides, to achieve its goals, Russia could go to organize loud provocations in the conflict zone in the Donbas or in Russia itself with the use of chemical weapons. Such an incident would be laid by Moscow in the basis of a large-scale information campaign accusing Ukraine of “turning to criminal methods in war” and proving “the need to combine efforts of Russia and the USA and EU in putting joint pressure on Ukraine”. At the same time Moscow will try to distract the West from Syria and divert the focus of the problems of chemical weapons to Ukraine.

The meeting of the RF National Anti-Terrorist Committee, 11 AprilThe meeting of the RF National Anti-Terrorist Committee, 11 April

Against this background, significant internal problem in Russia remains further complication of the situation in the country due to the spread of protests. Thus, the Union of Consumers Protection has already recognized the lack of basic kinds of food and other essential goods and rising prices for them in 34 regions of the country, due to the truckers' strike. According to experts of the Union, in the near future the shortage of such products can develop into acute deficit.

Besides, Russia's actions in Syria (in particular, Moscow's involvement in Assad's regime's using chemical weapons) have resulted in growing terrorist threats in Russia from Islamist organizations. According to the Director of the FSB, the head of the RF National Anti-Terrorist Committee A. Bortnikov, Russian special services have current information on the Islamist terrorists' preparing attacks against Russia. In fact, this completely undermines V. Putin's attempts to present Russia's participation in the war in Syria as “curbing Islamic extremism on the distant borders of the Russian Federation”.

In general, given the above-mentioned circumstances intensify Moscow's unpredictable politics, which may go to extreme measures for putting pressure on Ukraine and its western partners (including a full-scale military aggression) or agree to certain concessions.

 

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

Based on its strategic interests, the leadership of the Russian Federation will keep delaying the process of settlement of the conflict in the Donbas. In particular, in this respect, Moscow will not implement the draft “road map” for fulfilling the Minsk Agreements, which was developed by Ukraine, Germany and France, and was given to Russia in April. Moreover Russia will avoid by all means real work in the “Normandy Four” group. Given these circumstances, Russia will continue armed provocations in the East of Ukraine, despite any peace or ceasefire agreements.

 

5.3. Other Important Events that Will Influence Ukraine's Interests and Security

April 19, 2017, International Court of Justice will deliver its Order on the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by Ukraine in the case against Russia. This, actually, will determine the Court's position on Russia's military aggression against Ukraine.

Also of great importance for Ukraine and the unity of the EU will be the result of the first round of the French presidential elections on 23 April 2017. In fact, they will determine the main candidates to head the French state and, therefore, the direction and peculiarities of the country's foreign policy in the future.