June 5, 2017

Week's News Express Analysis № 22(53)/06

 

LAST WEEK'S KEY FACTORS AND MAIN TRENDS
IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SITUATION AROUND UKRAINE
(May 29–June 04, 2017)

 

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

In the context of the strategic course of the European integration of our state, the most important is the EU countries' completion of the process of ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. May 30, 2017, a positive decision on this issue was taken by the Senate (Upper House) of the Netherlands' Parliament, which was the last country to ratify the document. After the necessary formal procedures have been completed, the Agreement will enter into force before the July's Ukraine-EU summit.

The ratification of the document means that one of the main goals of the Ukrainian “Revolution of Dignity” (which started after the former Ukrainian authorities decided to abandon the association of Ukraine with the EU in favor of the Russian Federation) has been achieved. This can be considered the final defeat of the regime of V. Putin, who tried with the help of armed aggression to disrupt the process of Ukraine's European integration. Besides, it was confirmed that Moscow's policy of influencing the countries of the European Union through the support of pro-Russian, Eurosceptic and nationalist forces in Europe has failed. In turn, Ukraine has won a historic victory in terms of returning to the European community.

On May 30, Dutch Senate voted for ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU
On May 30, Dutch Senate voted for ratification of the Association Agreement
between Ukraine and the EU

In view of such circumstances, quite indicative are the EU's and Russia's reactions to the ratification of the Agreement by the Parliament of the Netherlands.

Thus, the European Commission welcomed the decision of the Netherlands Senate. According to European Commission President J. Juncker, “...Ukraine's place is in Europe. Ukraine's future lies with Europe”.

In contrast to this view, the Russian Foreign Ministry, in its habitual manner, accused the Netherlands' Parliament of “betraying the Dutch people who said “No” in the referendum on Ukraine's association with the European Union”. At this, the Agreement between Ukraine and the EU was called “anti-Russian by definition”.

 

At the same time, a positive factor is the resumption of the “Normandy” format of negotiations on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas. Thus, on 30 May 2017, on germany's initiative, in Berlin there were talks of the Deputy Foreign Ministers of the member countries of the “Normady” group. They discussed the issue of the forthcoming meeting of the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia. At this, all the parties spoke in favor of a ceasefire, as well as for speeding up the process of resolving the issue of exchanges of hostages and prisoners. Once again, an agreement was reached on a truce.

 

The negotiations were preceded by some events directly related to the situation around Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. Thus, according to US media reports, US President D. Trump is considering the possibility of resuming a dialogue with Russia on the Ukrainian issue in the format of foreign affairs representatives of the two countries (as it was in the format: V. Nuland-V. Surkov during B. Obama's presidency). This actually confirms the principled position of the USA, which demonstrates the willingness to take part in the settlement of the conflict around Ukraine, but does not perceive Russia as an equal partner. Despite this, the leadership of the Russian Federation has already agreed to establish contacts under this scheme.

Joint press conference of French President E. Macron and Russian President V. Putin, May 29, Paris
Joint press conference of French President E. Macron and Russian President V. Putin,
May 29, Paris

In turn, on 29 May 2017, on the initiative of the Russian side, there was a meeting between French President E. Macron and Russian President V. Putin. The main topic of the talks was the prospects for Franco-Russian relations in the context of the existing problems between the two countries over the Ukrainian issue. V. Putin tried to persuade E. Macron that Moscow's policy towards Ukraine is “appropriate”, and that Russia's annexation of the Crimea was is “legitimate”, and that Russia “has nothing to do with” the conflict in the Donbas. Besides, we should not exclude that V. Putin tried to sow discord between France and other EU countries, as well as to neutralize the negative aspects of the Kremlin's interference with the presidential elections in France. Contrary to Moscow's expectations, E. Macron confirmed that France's relations with Russia remain the same and even demonstrated a tougher stance than his predecessor, F. Hollande. For example, in his words, in case of escalation of the armed confrontation in the Donbass, the EU can toughen sanctions against Russia. At this, he advocated the revitalization of the “Normandy” group with the mandatory involvement of OSCE representatives. E. Macron also reacted to the work of Russian media, publicly accusing them of spreading false information.

 

All this once again demonstrated the hopelessness of the position taken by Russia, which is trying to have the sanctions lifted by all possible methods, including through miserable and unsuccessful attempts to offer itself as the United States' and the EU leading countries' partner. At the same time, the Russian leadership hopes to convince the West of the “peacefulness of Russia's policy”, shifting to Ukraine the responsibility for the armed confrontation in the conflict zone in the Donbas. Thus, during a press conference in Paris, Vladimir Putin called on the EU countries “to stop fueling the mythical threats from the Russian Federation” and “to concentrate the efforts of the parties on the fight against international terrorism”. And he once again accused Ukraine of “reluctance to comply with the Minsk Agreements” (in the context of Ukraine's rejection of the so-called Steinmeier formula, which provides for the implementation of the political part of the peace plan before ensuring security in the conflict zone).

In this aspect, the special statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia (dated May 31, 1997) with the appeal “to restore full-fledged ties between our countries and people” was the ultimate in Moscow's cynism.

 

II. Russia's Armed Aggression against Ukraine

2.1. The East of Ukraine (the ATO Zone)

Despite the agreement on a truce, the Russian-terrorist forces continued to actively shell the the ATO forces' positions and civilian settlements. In particular, the fact of such shelling in the area of Stanytsya Luhanska was confirmed by representatives of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.

Against this background, the leaderships of the EU and the UN show an increased attention to the events in the Donbas. In particular, last week a group of European diplomats led by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, J. Hahn, visited Mariupol and Shyrokino. In turn, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission F. Fraser studied the work of the points of entry and exit from the controlled territories of Ukraine in the “DPR” and “LPR”.

European Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s visit to Mariupol and Shyrokino

2.2. The Crimean Peninsula

As part of the general deterioration of the economic situation in Russia, socio-economic problems are also growing in the Crimea occupied by the RF, where protests are growing, in some cases being held under slogans against Russia's annexation of the Crimea.

In particular, on 29 May 2017, in Kerch, workers of the Kerch Metallurgical Plant came out to protest, demanding to resume the work of the enterprise and to pay the wage arrears. At this, the slogan “What for Have You Captured Us?” was quite demonstrative. Another protest action — against the “barbaric real estate development” of the district — was held in Koktebel.

 

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

Meeting of the board of the Russian Defense Ministry, May 31
Meeting of the board of the Russian Defense Ministry, May 31

In its effort to establish relations with the West, the leadership of the Russian Federation resorts to active actions to intimidate the United States and Europe by demonstrating military force. Thus, according to the Russian Minister of Defense, S. Shoigu's statement at the meeting of the board of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation on 31 May 2017, the Strategic Missile Force (RVSN) of Russia is able to deter any enemy. To confirm this, he mentioned the high level of combat readiness of the Strategic Missile Forces, namely, the readiness of 98 % of launchers for immediate launch. At the same time, the Russian Defense Minister confirmed the plans to re-equip the Strategic Missile Forces with new missile systems capable of overcoming the echeloned missile defense system. By the end of this year, 66 % of the Strategic Missile Forces will receive such complexes.

This question was more frankly commented on by State Duma Deputy V. Nikonov at the international “GLOBSEC 2017” conference in Bratislava. According to the Russian parliamentarian, “Russia will use nuclear weapons if the USA and NATO's troops appear in the Crimea or in the East of Ukraine”.

 

Besides, last week, at the briefing in Rostov-on-Don, Colonel-General A. Dvornikov, Commander of the Southern Military District (SMD) summed up the military training of the SMD during the winter training period. According to him, during the mentioned period, there were more than 250 staff training sessions, more than 20 tactical trainings in the field. Besides, about 5.5 thousand classes were held on training grounds of the Southern Military District, which is by 20 % more than during the same period of 2016.

Active operational and combat training activities also took place in the formations and units of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army of the Russian Aerospace Forces deployed in the territory of the SMD. There were 28 flight-tactical trainings, which is by 11 % more than last year's similar figure. Ships of the Black Sea Fleet carried out more than 480 combat trainings, including 310 artillery and rocket firings, which is by 15 % more than in the previous year.

In this context, among the large-scale events was mentioned the sudden inspection of the grouping of troops on the South-Western operational direction, which checked more than 60 formations and units of the SMD (17,000 servicemen and more than 7,000 units of weapons, military and special equipment). Along with this, the trainings of the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army were pointed out, during which a group of combat planes and helicopters flew to the Trans-Baikal region of the Russian Federation.

The technical re-equipment of the troops of the SMD continues. Since the beginning of 2017, the troops have received about 500 units of modern weapons, including more than 160 armored vehicles, 170 vehicles, 25 units of the nuclear and chemical warfare equipment and 20 communications units. In the second half of this year, the District is supposed to receive more than 1.8 thousand units of weapons, including 900 units of armored vehicles.

Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces
Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces

Russia's military activity is also growing on other directions. From the second half of 2017 it is planned to resume the permanent combat duty of the forces of the Northern Fleet of the Russian Federation in different regions of the Arctic Ocean. Under the Ministry of Defense of Russia, an Arctic Research Center is planned to be established to ensure scientific and technical support for the actions of Russian troops in the Arctic.

Besides, in late May 2017, in the course of the joint exercise “Dushanbe-Antiterror-2017” (conducted under the auspices of the CIS Antiterrorist Center in Tajikistan), an “Iskander-M” tactical missile was launched for the first time outside of Russia. As part of the exercise, the “Iskander-M” complex was redeployed to Tajikistan from the Orenburg region of the Russian Federation. All in all, about 2,000 Russian servicemen and more than 300 units of military equipment, including 30 planes and helicopters, were involved in the exercise.

 

III. Ukraine, International Organizations and Leading Western Countries

3.1. International Organizations

NATO. In response to Russia's actions, the NATO's Command continues to conduct maneuvers and exercises in the most threatened areas. Thus, on June 3 2017, “Saber Strike” large-scale exercise of the NATO Allied Forces started in the Baltic region. The scenario of the exercise includes mastering the receiving and deploying NATO troops in the Baltic countries, as well as a defensive operation to repulse Russia's armed aggression.

As part of the preparatory activities, May 27 2017, near the Estonian city of Võru, on the basis of the 2nd Infantry Brigade of the Estonian Armed Forces, the international command and staff exercisesSaber Knight” began. The exercises are a part of the training cycle of the Division of the Armed Forces of Denmark, in order to master planning and conducting joint military operations to defend the Baltic States. About 700 servicemen from the Armed Forces of Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, the United States and Slovakia are taking part in the exercise. Also, from May 29 to June 3, 2017, the “Flaming Thunder-2017” annual artillery and mortar exercise with the participation of more than 600 soldiers from Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands (for the first time) was conducted at the Pabrad training ground in Lithuania.

Besides, three B-52H strategic bombers of the US Air Force (the place of the permanent deployment — the Barksdale airbase, Louisiana) and about 800 US servicemen arrived in Great Britain at the Fairford airbase in order to participate in the “Saber Strike” exercises.

NATO’s “Saber Strike 2017” exercise Strategic B-52H Stratofortresses of the US Air Force arriving RAF Fairford, June 1
NATO’s “Saber Strike 2017” exercise Strategic B-52H Stratofortresses of the US Air Force arriving RAF Fairford, June 1

At the same time, an important event in the development of NATO is the signing of a protocol on Montenegro's joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (May 19 this year). At the meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Tbilisi on 29 May 2017, commenting on this issue, Chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly P. Alli stated about the “openness of the doors” of the Alliance for Ukraine, Georgia and other countries that share the Organization's goals. NATO's attitude to Russia (as the greatest challenge to the Alliance, which requires the continuation of the policy to constrain Russia) was also reaffirmed.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro Srdjan Darmanovic
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro
Srdjan Darmanovic

Against this background, on 28 May 2017, Foreign Minister of Montenegro S. Darmanovic accused Russia of “serious and frank interference with his country's domestic affairs with a view to preventing it from joining NATO”. In support of the above-said, he mentioned the fact of Russian special services' open support for the Montenegrin opposition which is against the country's Euro-Atlantic integration.

Montenegro's joining NATO, as a continuation of the process of the Alliance's enlargement, caused a very negative reaction from Moscow. Thus, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, “the Montenegrin authorities' decision on this issue does not meet the interests of the country's population and is an additional destabilizing factor on the Balkan Peninsula and in Europe as a whole”. At the same time, as a “retaliation action”, Russia banned entry for Prime Minister of Montenegro D. Markovic and all members of the government of the country, as well as the Speaker of the Parliament M. Dukanovic (leader of the DPS) and 46 Deputies of the Montenegro's Parliament, who voted for the protocol on joining NATO. The ban also applies to heads of large state-owned companies in Montenegro.

The European Union. The European Union remains one of the main financial donors of Ukraine in solving the problem of rebuilding the destroyed regions of the Donbas. As the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, J. Hahn said, speaking in Mariupol on 2 June 2017, the European Union will fulfill its obligations and allocate funds for restoring the vital activity of the region. In particular, the issue of an additional allocation of 50 million Euros for implementation of humanitarian projects and modernization of the infrastructure of Mariupol is being considered. He also said that the EU would help attract investments from European countries to develop the economy of the East of Ukraine.

 

3.2. Leading Western Countries

U.S. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo and Ranking Member Sen. Sherrod Brown
U.S. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo and Ranking Member Sen. Sherrod Brown

The USA. The US Congress maintains consolidated positions on the need to tighten Washington's policy towards the Russian Federation.

June 1, 2017, the Senate Banking Committee of the US Congress announced a bipartisan bill of the Democratic and Republican parties on extending sanctions against Russia because of its armed aggression against Ukraine, actions in Syria and interference with the presidential elections in the United States. The bill provides for introduction of new “broad” sanctions against key sectors of the Russian economy, including the mining industry, metallurgy and railway transport.

At the same time, the US Congress continues to investigate D. Trump and his environment's ties with Russia, as well as Moscow's attempts to influence the presidential campaign in the United States. Last week, the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee sent requests for relevant information to former Advisor to the US President M. Flynn, D. Trump's Personal Advisor M. Cohen, as well as to the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.

 

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

Russia. Having got complicated under the Western sanctions, the socio-economic situation in Russia determines the objective tendency of the fall of the rating of President V. Putin. According to the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTsIOM), in May this year the level of the population's confidence in Putin fell by 1 % to the lowest level — 49.6 %. At the same time, the level of confidence in Defense Minister S. Shoigu grew by 3 % — to 18.5 %. So, S. Shoigu ranks second after the Russian President. In the third place is Russian Foreign Minister S. Lavrov — 15.3 %, and in the fourth — the head of the Russian government D. Medvedev — 15.2 %.

According to VTsIOM's experts, apart from social and economic problems, the reason for the fall of Putin's rating is the decrease in the interest of the Russian society to the issue of “the Crimea's rejoining Russia”, which is being overshadowed by more pressing events. In turn, the rating of D. Medvedev has significantly decreased due to the compromising materials, published by A. Navalny. At the same time, according to analysts, in the near future the fall of Putin's rating will not be critical, since the majority of the population still perceives him as a “symbol of Russia”.

President of Moldova I. Dodon met with Russian President V. Putin at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, June 2
President of Moldova I. Dodon met with Russian President V. Putin at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, June 2

Moldova. The pro-Russian course of the new Moldovan President I. Dodon, with the continuing pro-Western orientation of both the government and the ruling coalition in the country's Parliament, exacerbates the political confrontation in the country and negatively affects its foreign policy. For example, on 30 May 2017, Moldova's government decided to expel five Russian diplomats (representatives of the Russian military attaché) for subversive activities.

I. Dodon reacted sharply to this step of the Moldovan government. He called it “an outrageous gesture and an unfriendly act towards Russia”. At this, he linked the actions of the government of the country with “the intentions of supporters of unification with Romania to provoke aggravation of relations between Moldova and the Russian Federation”.

These circumstances once again confirmed that Moscow is not in a position to reverse completely the policy of any country in its favor, which fact is also confirmed by the developments in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. All this also shows that the Kremlin will not be able to change Ukraine's politics, including by restoring pro-Russian power in Ukraine.

 

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 development of the situation around Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine testifies to the failure of Russia's policy on all directions, which in fact leads Putin's regime into a “dead end” of critical problems for him. This situation is especially dangerous for the leadership of the Russian Federation against the backdrop of the fall in the rating of the Russian President on the eve of presidential elections. Of course, under any circumstances V. Putin will win the elections, which are exclusively a formal procedure in the current political system of the Russian Federation.

At the same time, the obvious falsification of the results of the presidential elections in the Russian Federation will provide the United States and the EU with a powerful instrument of influencing Moscow in terms of raising the question of the illegitimacy of the Russian government. In such a situation, an extremely important issue for V. Putin is to raise his rating. At this, in the absence of any opportunities to achieve this goal through success in restoring the country's economy and implementing its foreign policy, we can expect further strengthening of Moscow's anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. Plus, militaristic hysteria will also grow along with increasing measures to demonstrate force.

Naturally, the United States and NATO will have to react to such Kremlin's steps by increasing their military activity, first of all in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. All this can lead to the parties' losing control over the situation and mutual confrontation in the military sphere which can result in an armed conflict.

Similar developments took place between the USA/NATO and the former USSR during the 1962 Caribbean crisis. Then the crisis was stopped due to the achievement of a compromise between the leadership of the United States and the Soviet Union, which helped to avoid a third world war. Today, the leadership of the Russian Federation cannot in any way compromise with the West, since this would in fact mean the “political death” of V. Putin's regime. In turn, because of the position of the US Congress, US President D. Trump also would not be able to make concessions to Russia.

 

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

The above-mentioned tendencies will directly influence the situation in the conflict zones on the Ukrainian territory. Thus, in the wake of the spread of militaristic sentiments in Russia, the Russian leadership can expand the scale of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. The reason for this may be an emergency situation on the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait (including specifically provoked by the Russian side). In turn, Moscow will try to use this to justify the need to create a land corridor to the Crimea. At this, a separate goal of such actions may be to conceal the facts of the Russian Federation's being unable to build a bridge and of financial abuses during its construction (from the beginning of the construction work, its estimated value has increased fourfold — from 50 to 200 billion rubles).

According to Russian experts, on the whole, Russia's Armed Forces have sufficient potential for breaking through the front line in the Mariupol area and entering the Crimea. At the same time, an essential problem would be to maintain control over such a corridor, first of all in terms of protecting its border with the rest of Ukraine. With this in mind, the RF's new “territorial acquisitions” would become a continuous zone of conflict, which would not allow them to be effectively used to ensure communication with the Crimea. In addition, in the face of increasing threat of an armed clash with the USA/NATO, Russia will be forced to significantly build up the grouping of its Armed Forces also in other areas (first of all in the Baltic), which will finally undermine the Russian Federation's economy.

 

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

The growing conflict potential in the world and the increasing level of military threats to Ukraine's national security make even more important Ukraine's cooperation with NATO. In this regard, an important event swill be the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission with the participation of President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko, scheduled within the framework of the North Atlantic Council meeting on 9–10 July 2017 in Kyiv. According to NATO's practice, holding such an event in one of the partner countries shows that this country can count on the support of the Alliance.