May 10, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 18(49)/05

 

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

 

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

Last week's most important events that influenced the development of the situation around Ukraine were US President D. Trump's telephone conversation with Russian President V. Putin and Federal Chancellor of Germany A. Merkel's meeting with Putin on 2 May. The content of the talks clarifies the above-mentioned countries' positions on Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine.

Telephone call of the US President D. Trump and Russian President V. Putin was held on May 2, 2017Thus, the nature of the dialogue between D. Trump and V. Putin once again confirmed that the United States continues to condemn Russia's actions, trying to contain it, and are not going to negotiate with the RF on the Ukrainian issue at the highest level, believing that at the moment it is absolutely impossible to achieve any compromise between the USA and Russia over the Ukrainian issue. Obviously, the USA does not see direct threats to itself from the conflict in the Donbas, which affects only the US interests in Europe. Proceeding from this fact, the European Union is directly responsible for solving the existing problem around Ukraine, while the task of ensuring security in the European region is entrusted to NATO.

In particular, D. Trump discussed with V. Putin only problems related to North Korea and Syria. Despite the optimistic assessment given to the talks by the US State Department, no breakthrough agreements were reached. However, D. Trump does not refuse to communicate with V. Putin. Thus, a preliminary agreement was reached on their meeting in the sidelines of G20 on July 7–8 in Hamburg.

Prospects for such a dialogue were a bit specified by US Secretary of State R. Tillerson. According to him, the USA can go to “interaction” with Russia in settling the situation around Ukraine, but only if a certain level of trust between Washington and Moscow is reached.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President V. Putin at Sochi, May 2, 2017It was precisely about Ukraine that the leaders of the FRG and Russia mainly talked during the meeting. At this, A. Merkel stressed that Russia should implement the Minsk Agreements, including the transfer to Ukraine of the control over its eastern border. According to the Federal Chancellor of Germany, only under such conditions the European Union can lift its sanctions imposed on Russia. In contrast to this, V. Putin once again tried to shift to Ukraine the responsibility for the ongoing conflict in the Donbas. He even tried to use his meeting with A. Merkel to discredit Ukraine, arguing that it allegedly “leads an aggressive nationalist policy”.

 

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe demonstrated its support for Ukraine. For example, on 3 May 2017, the Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the situation in the Crimea, urging Russia to implement the decision of the UN International Court of Justice on restoring the activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people on the Crimean Peninsula. The Council of Europe joined the UN General Assembly's resolution, where the annexation of the Crimea by Russia is considered Moscow's armed aggression against Ukraine. Russia's responsibility for violating human rights in the Crimea and Sevastopol was also recognized.

 

The circle of European countries supporting the European Union's sanctions against Russia is widening because of the latter's violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity. In particular, last week sanctions against Russia were imposed by the EU Candidate Countries Montenegro and Albania and the EFTA country — Norway.

 

French 2017 presidential election resultsAgainst this background, extremely important for Ukraine was a confident victory in presidential elections in France by the leader of the “En Marche!” Party, Emmanuel Macron, whose political positions confirm that he is a staunch supporter of the strengthening of the EU, and that he will contribute to further positive development of the European Union. At the same time, the new head of the French state supports Ukraine in its confrontation with Russia. Therefore, France's policy towards Russia will in fact remain the same or even become tougher.

 

Despite the pressure from the West, and deterioration of the social and economic situation in Russia, V. Putin's regime continues its aggressive policy against Ukraine and its partners. For example, the Russian government refuses to lift the ban on the activity of the Mejlis in the Crimea. At this, despite the obvious facts, it speaks about “the absence of any decisions of the International Court on Russia's violation of human rights in the Crimean Peninsula”. In particular, this position was expressed by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry M. Zakharova during her visit to the Crimea on 1–2 May. At this, she again justified the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia by “the need to protect the Russian-speaking population of the Peninsula from Ukrainian nationalists”. To confirm the said, she recalled the tragic events in Odessa on 2 May, 2014. And she also expressed Moscow's readiness to accept in the Crimea a special UN human rights envoy to prove that “there are no violations in this sphere”.

And on 7 May, in his interview with “Mir TV” (one of Russia's main disinformation channels), Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov again accused Ukraine of “sabotaging the Minsk Agreements”. As a confirmation, he mentioned Ukraine's firm position on the need to implement the security part of the peace plan first, and only then — its political component.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO Zone)

Russia, stubbornly adhering to its policy, continues armed provocations in the Donbas, including systematically firing the ATO forces' positions and civilian settlements. As expected, the intensity of such attacks increased especially (about 60 per day, including heavy weapons) on the eve of and on Victory Day.

Also, Russia continues the practice of inviting all kinds of “European representatives” to the occupied territories of Ukraine win order to create the impression of a “positive attitude of Western countries” to the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbas. In particular, for the May holidays, the “LPR” was visited by the Deputy of the European Parliament from Italy, a representative of the Italian marginal “Party of Communist Revival” E. Forenz.

 

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

Although the leadership of the Russian Federation claims that it “has provided for the energy independence of the Crimea”, this problem has not actually been resolved. For example, Russian Energy Minister A. Novak has admitted that Russia cannot fulfill the plan for putting into operation two thermal power plants built in the Crimean Peninsula, because it can't buy the necessary foreign-made equipment for the TPPs as a result of Western sanctions.

The occupation authorities' inability to solve social and economic problems of the Crimea is compensated by repressions against the Putin regime's opponents, first of all the Crimean Tatars. Thus, within a week there was a regular series of searches in the premises of Crimean-Tatar activists, in particular, of the Chairman of the Sudak branch of Mejlis I. Ametov.

 

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

Russia's failure to achieve parity with the USA, NATO and the EU in the political and economic sphere is compensated by its active demonstration of military force. A manifestation of this was Russia's celebration of the Victory Day with large-scale military parades in Moscow and other cities of the Russian Federation. They were accompanied by an active information campaign to promote the Russian Federation's military power and to prove “Moscow's ability to lead its policy under any circumstances”

Against this background, Russia has stepped up provocations against the United States and the Baltic countries. Thus, on 4 May 2017, two Tu-95MS strategic bombers and two Su-35 “Flanker” jets of the Russian VKS (Aero-Space Force) flew towards Alaska, coming near to the US border (the latest such flight was carried out on 18 April, 2017). Two US Air Force F-22 fighters intercepted Russian planes during a patrol.

May 4, 2017, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska May 4, 2017, two Russian Tu-95MS strategic bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska

Besides, on 7 May 2017, three small missile ships of the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Federation, including “Serpukhov”, “Morshansk” and No. 551 “Liven”, approached the territorial waters of Latvia (at a distance of 6.5 km). A few days before a submarine was approaching the territorial waters of Latvia.

 

Also, Russia is taking measures to expand its military presence in Syria. In particular, units of Russian troops with military equipment have been deployed in the Afrin district (Syrian Kurdistan) near the border with Turkey. True, such measures are accompanied by an increase in losses among Russian servicemen. For example, as a result of shelling by militants, a Lieutenant Colonel, a Military Adviser, and a private-contractor were killed last week.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

NATO–the United States. Russia's growing military activity in the West with mastering the scenarios of armed conflicts with the USA and NATO alarms the leadership of the North Atlantic Alliance. Speaking on 2 May 2017, during the hearings in the US Congress, Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti pointed out the need to increase the number of American troops on the European continent. According to him, the current composition of the European grouping of the US Armed Forces (including two Brigade Tactical Groups deployed on a permanent basis and one on the rotational one) does not correspond to the situation in the region and does not guarantee reliable containment of Russia. Considering this, C. Scaparrotti urged the US Congress to increase the number of American troops in Europe at the expense of armored, aviation and engineering units.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe, states before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, May 2, 2017 U.S. Special Operations Command Commander Gen. Raymond Thomas testifies before the House Armed Services Committee, May 4, 2017

A similar proposal was made in the Congress by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOC) Commander General Raymond Thomas. Based on the analysis of threats to the US security, the main tasks of the SOC are to counteract extremism and terrorism and to support the European Command of the US Armed Forces in repelling Russia's aggression in Europe. In this context, R. Thomas recalled the statement of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis about Russia's desire to control the actions of neighboring countries in the political, economic and security spheres. The American General also drew attention to the fact that Moscow is trying to restrict the activities of American institutions in Europe, first of all in the countries of the former USSR.

Under such circumstances, the USA and NATO continue their efforts to actively contain Russia. May 8, 2017, NATO's international exercise “Spring Storm-2017” began in Estonia. The exercise is conducted in the northern and north-eastern regions near the border with Russia. More than 9,000 servicemen from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, the Baltic States, Ukraine and Georgia are taking part in it. In the exercises are involved the tanks M1A2 Abrams, British Challenger 2 and French Lecler. The exercise will last until May 25, 2017.

As part of the exercise, the US Navy guided-missile destroyer DDG-64 Carney (carrying 90 Tomahawk cruise missiles) entered the Baltic Sea. At the same time, another guided-missile destroyer (DDG-79) Oscar Austin of the 6th US Navy Fleet entered the Black Sea.

In response, in the vicinity of the destroyer DDG-64 Carney (according to the Russian media at the missile launch distance from St. Petersburg), a detachment of warships of the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Federation (small missile ships “Morshansk”, “Zelenodolsk” and “Stoykiy”, a small anti-submarine ship “Urengoy”, a minesweeper and a submarine “Kolpino”) was deployed. All this actually thwarted the naval parade in St. Petersburg.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

The USA. The United States Congress also confirmed the steadfastness of American positions regarding Russia. In particular, the House of Representatives of the US Congress decided to establish Committee to counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence over peoples and governments.

The Committee will include representatives of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Finance, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Attorney General and the FBI.

Besides, the determination of the USA's intent to counter any encroachments on its security and interests was demonstrated during the (second within the week) launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Minuteman III on 3 May, 2017. By such actions, the United States is practically implementing the policy of D. Trump to strengthen the country's Armed Forces and their strategic nuclear missile component.

Against this background, May 5 2017, US President D. Trump signed a law on the financing of the federal government until September 30, 2017, which had previously been adopted by both the US Congress. The total budget is 1.1 trillion US dollars. Of these, 598.5 billion US dollars are allocated for defense spending, including 15 billion — to combat international terrorism.

Besides, 100 million US dollars are allocated to deter Russian influence and aggression in Europe, and 410 million 456 thousand US dollars — to support Ukraine (including 150 million US dollars to purchase weapons).

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President V. Putin at Sochi, May 2, 2017The Federative Republic of Germany. During her meeting with V. Putin on 2 May 2017, in Sochi, A. Merkel finally became convinced of the insidiousness, duality and aggressiveness of Russia's policy with regard to both, Ukraine and its Western partners. As a consequence, the position of the Federal Chancellor of the FRG regarding the Russian Federation has become more stringent, including counteracting Moscow's attempts to influence the situation in Germany and its foreign policy.

According to A. Merkel, Germany will rigidly block all foreign countries' disinformation campaigns on its territory. Examples of such campaigns were the fabricated stories about the alleged rape of a Russian-speaking “Lisa girl” in Berlin, as well as about the “excesses of German servicemen from the NATO Battalion in Lithuania”. In this context, A. Merkel recalled the “hybrid” methods of Russia's actions, including by conducting information wars against other countries (which is an integral part of the military doctrine of the Russian Federation).

 

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

The Russian Federation. The USA and the EU's consistent sanctions policy against Russia made it impossible for the Russian government to fulfill the so-called Putin's May decrees (they were adopted exactly five years ago, in May 2012), which in fact determined the main goals of his economic and social policy. This fact was recognized by the President of the Russian Federation at the joint meeting of the State Council and the Commission for monitoring the achievement of the targets for social and economic development that took place on 4 May, in Moscow. According to Putin, “there are far more problems than real achievements”.

In this regard, a significant internal problem is the continuation of protests. To counteract such actions, the leadership of the Russian Federation intensifies repressions against the opposition. For example, on 3 May 2017, the Kirov Regional Court confirmed the “legality of the verdict” to A. Navalny, leader of the opposition of the Russian Federation, about “involvement in illegal economic activities in the “Kirovles” case”. A. Navalny was sentenced to five years (conditionally), which excludes the possibility of his running for presidency.

However, protests in the Russian Federation do force the Putin regime to make concessions to the opposition. Thus, the leadership of the Russian Federation agreed to consider the demands of the truckers' movement to abolish the increase in the cost of using the country's highways.

This does not exclude the possibility of the opposition's reaching its political goals to change the ruling regime in Russia. Thus, on 6 May 2017, another meeting in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow took place under the slogans “Enough of Putin!”, “Enough of obscurantism!”, “Stop tolerating Kadyrov”.

On 6 May 2017, another meeting of the opposition took place in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow On 6 May 2017, another meeting of the opposition took place in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow

Moldova. Against the background of Moldovan President I. Dodon's openly pro-Russian position, some state bodies are trying to defend the national interests of the country. May 2, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Moldova declared illegal the stay of the Russian military contingent in the Trans-Dniester region of the country. According to the Court's decision, Moldova is a neutral country that does not allow the presence of foreign troops on its territory. Besides, it pointed out the fact of Moscow's having occupied about 11 % of the Moldovan state.

 

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 results of D. Trump and A. Merkel's talks with V. Putin, as well as the election of E. Macron President of France, once again confirm that Russia's plans to change the USA's and the EU's politics in its favor have failed. This, as well as Moscow's actual refusal to comply with the Minsk Agreements and to return the Crimea to Ukraine, create a “stalemate” situation in the development of events around Ukraine and actually “freeze” the conflict in the Donbas by the model of Nagornyi Karabakh. The peculiarity of such a conflict as compared with Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is the continuation of the armed confrontation at the borders of the self-proclaimed Nagornyi Karabakh, including the use of heavy weapon systems.

The principal difference of the situation around Ukraine from the conflicts provoked by Moscow in other CIS countries is the introduction of the USA and EU's sanctions against Russia, while its actions against Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan were in fact ignored by the West. Russia's aggression against Ukraine and its consequences put Putin's regime in an extremely difficult situation for him. After all, Russia's international positions have been undermined, the state of its economy has worsened without a real prospect of restoring the positive dynamics of its development.

At this, unlike Russia's attack on Georgia in August 2008 and bringing Russian troops into Ukraine in August–September 2014, today the significant expansion of the scale of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine would provoke much more negative consequences for V. Putin's regime. First of all, tightening of the West's sanctions against Russia, which can expand to a new level, as well as significant losses among Russian servicemen during combat actions.

Under such circumstances, the only way for Russia to achieve its goals is to destabilize the situation in Ukraine with a view to changing the Ukrainian leadership. Such methods were tested by Moscow in Georgia and Moldova. Therefore, experts reasonably believe that this is exactly what the Kremlin will try to do in the nearest future.

 

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

The actual “freezing” at the political level of the conflict in the East of Ukraine will be accompanied by Russia's consistent actions to provoke tension in the Donbas. From time to time these provocations will be intensified against the background of all sorts of loud events, including those related to the European integration of Ukraine. At this, independent experts consider Primorye /Mariupol/ direction to be the most dangerous area of intensifying fighting of Russian-terrorist forces against Ukraine with the goal of creating a land corridor to the Crimea.

The groups of the Russian Armed Forces in neighboring regions of Russia will also be growing. The most large-scale will be the deployment of the new 8th Combined Arms Army in the Rostov region of the Russian Federation. Thanks to this, the Russian Federation could both strengthen Russian-terrorist forces in the occupied territories of the Donbas, and expand the scale of the armed aggression against Ukraine (including the conduct of a comprehensive offensive operation on the Primorsky /Mariupol/ direction).

 

German special services assume an intensification of Russia's attempts to influence the course of the pre-election campaign in FRG5.3. Other Important Events that Will Influence Ukraine's Interests and Security

After E. Macron's victory in the presidential elections in France, the next important political event in the EU will be the parliamentary elections in Germany in September 2017. If the current parliamentary coalition led by A. Merkel remains, the FRG will adhere to the current course both within the EU and towards Russia and Ukraine. Given this, the German special services assume an intensification of Russia's attempts to influence the course of the pre-election campaign in Germany. This is evidenced by Russia's cyber attacks on the databases of the German Bundestag (Parliament) in 2015, as well as unauthorized penetration of the US Democratic Party servers on the eve of the presidential elections in the USA in November 2016 and E. Macron's electoral headquarters in France over the past two months.