July 10, 2016

Russia after the Extension of Sanctions

Ivan Sichen, military and political expert


June 28, 2016, the European Union extended sanctions against Russia for another six months — until January 31, 2017. As always, the Russian Federation's leadership is trying to downplay the consequences of the EU's such actions and denies the possibility of their influence on Moscow's foreign and domestic policy. In particular, the Kremlin expresses the intention to continue implementation of its course, despite pressure from the West.

Similar estimates of a relatively high probability of non-extension of sanctions in 2017 have been given also by pro-government Russian experts, who generally express confidence in a high probability of lifting the EU sanctions against Russia before the said date. The reasons for this are said to be growing pro-Russian sentiments in the European Union, as well as the weakening of its unity as a result of Britain's intentions to withdraw from the Organization, which causes activation of Euroskeptic forces and in other EU countries.

At the same time, despite such statements and estimates, the West's sanctions against Russia do lead to actual losses of the Russian economy, and as a consequence — to worsening of the socio-political situation in the country. Thus, according to estimates by international consulting organizations that are confirmed by the conclusions drawn by the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, despite the expectations for the restoration of growth of the Russian economy, in 2016, the GDP of the country is expected to decrease by at least 1.3 %.

This will lead to decrease in incomes of the population (in May 2016 alone, they fell by 5.7 %), rising prices and increased unemployment. According to sociological studies, to date, 86 % of Russia's population acknowledge the country's transition into a state of deep economic crisis. Taking this into account, conclusion is made about the likelihood of mass protests in the Russian Federation in case of the authorities' falsification of the results of the next parliamentary elections in the country (the elections to the State Duma will be held September 18, 2016).

All this makes the Russian leadership search for new forms and methods of action to address the Ukrainian issue in its favor, because further delay in this process creates more negative consequences for the Russian Federation. This issue is of particular relevance for the V. Putin’s regime in the situation of the election campaign in the country, which demands from Moscow to demonstrate real success, both in domestic and foreign spheres.

At the same time, today Russia cannot resort to using large-scale events of force pressure on Ukraine in order to force it to accept Russia's terms of settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, because it would be perceived by the EU as a threat to its own security. In turn, the above-mentioned would be a powerful factor in the consolidation of the European Union on anti-Russian basis.

Besides, Moscow has actually used all the means from its arsenal of “economic war” against Ukraine, which is largely able to compensate for the loss of ties with Russia at the expense of increased cooperation with other countries, including the European Union.

This situation also applies to the energy sector, which until recently had been used by V. Putin's regime as the main tool of economic pressure on Ukraine and its European allies. Moreover, as a result of the decline in world prices of energy carriers and the reduced demand for Russian gas in Europe, Moscow already has to “impose” it upon Ukraine (though, with all sorts of reservations), instead of cutting it, as it was before.

Under such circumstances, Russia shifts the focus of the “hybrid war” against Ukraine, mainly into the political sphere — namely, to loosening the political situation in Ukraine and creation of prerequisites for holding early parliamentary elections in our State. This way Russia is hoping to return to power in Ukraine the controlled by the RF pro-Russian political forces that would be able to take decisions favorable to Moscow to resolve the situation in the Donbas, and to change the course of our State's domestic and foreign policy. Also, getting the majority of pro-Russian forces in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and association with other opponents of the current authorities, would allow them to initiate also holding early presidential election.

As part of the practical implementation of these plans, Moscow pins its main hopes on the current opposition and some right-wing nationalist populist and ultranationalist forces, which directly or indirectly are used by Russia for its own purposes. At this, the Kremlin's obvious intention is to provoke political crisis in Ukraine around certain questions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine's introduction of resonance changes into the Constitution and adoption of a number of other laws on the situation in the Donbas. First of all, it concerns the decentralization of power in Ukraine, and the special status of the occupied districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as a broad amnesty to separatists and militants and the local elections in the breakaway republics.

Resolving these issues on Moscow's terms (before the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied territories and the transfer of control of the eastern border of Ukraine) is the V. Putin regime's main demand to Ukraine, which are being brazenly imposed by the leadership of the Russian Federation and supported by the repeated violations of the ceasefire in the Donbas.

Russia expects that Ukraine's agreeing to the Russian demands would inevitably lead to anti-government demonstrations of right-wing nationalist and ultra-nationalist forces under the slogans of the Verkhovna Rada's resignation and early parliamentary elections, which would also be supported by pro-Russian opposition. Besides, the political crisis in Ukraine would be provoked by sharp social and economic problems in our country, in particular due to the constant increase of utility tariffs and prices for the basic essentials.

The implementation of this scenario would also be accompanied by Moscow's other measures within the framework of its “hybrid war” against Ukraine. In particular, we should expect the continuation of Russia's actions to block the access of Ukrainian goods to the Russian market, manipulating the question of Russian gas prices for our State, creating obstacles in the transport links of Ukraine with the countries of Central Asia and others. In particular, the evidence of this was V. Putin's latest presidential decrees in June and early July of this year to extend the restrictions on import of Ukrainian agricultural products to Russia, as well as to ban the transit of goods from Ukraine to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

At the same time, as a “last resort” in the solution of the Ukrainian issue, Russia will maintain readiness to conduct a large-scale offensive into the territory of Ukraine. Confirmation of such a possibility is Moscow's strengthening the grouping of its troops near the eastern border of Ukraine, as well as the increased activities of operational and combat training of staffs and troops of frankly offensive orientation.

Thus, in addition to new formations and units that have been deployed by Russia in the Western and Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces in the past two years, in June-July this year, in Smolensk and Rostov regions of Russia they started creating two new Motorized Rifle Divisions (as part of the 20th Guards Combined Arms Army and the 49th Combined Arms Army, respectively).

In June 2016, in the Western Military District of the RF Armed Forces, were held regular large-scale trainings on the redeployment of combat aircrafts of the Russian Air Force to forward airfields in the Voronezh region. All in all, in the training were engaged more than 50 aircrafts and helicopters, including new front-line bombers Su-34 and fighters Su-27 and MiG-29 SMT.

Besides, V. Putin's regime will continue its activity in Europe in terms of “persuading” the EU countries in the need for lifting of sanctions against the Russian Federation and feasibility of resuming cooperation with it, as well as putting joint pressure on Ukraine in order to make our State fulfill Russia's terms of “settlement” of the conflict in the Donbas. At this, Moscow will focus its main efforts on Germany, as the main initiator and conductor of the EU sanctions policy towards Russia, as well as on some European countries, most “tied up” to Russia in the trade and economic, financial and investment spheres.

In particular, the expression of such Russia's policy was an attempt of the Russian delegation to include into the final resolution of the jubilee 25th Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (1-5 July this year, in Tbilisi) the provision on the “fallacy” of introduction of European economic sanctions against the Russian Federation.

At the same time, Russia is taking measures for putting pressure on the European Union, namely: in respect of Ukraine, in June this year Russian President V. Putin extended the ban on the import of food products manufactured in Europe to the Russian Federation until August 31, 2017.

We can't help pointing out the intensification of Russia's military provocations against the European Union and NATO in the Black Sea and Baltic regions, as well as in the North of Europe, which could lead to armed incidents with unpredictable consequences.

In a word, the above-mentioned circumstances once again convincingly confirm the virtually complete futility of political negotiations with the current leadership of Russia to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, let alone Moscow's peaceful returning of the Crimea to Ukraine.

Effective guarantees of security and protection of national interests of Ukraine can be only the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the political will, determination and unwavering position of our State's leadership towards the Russian Federation, as well as preservation of Ukraine's reliable and strong allies such as the USA, Great Britain, Poland and other European countries, especially Germany, Romania and the Baltic countries.