Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Oct. 11-18, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • No significant developments.

 Russia’s leverage over West:

  • According to a new poll by Politico/Morning Consult released Monday, almost half of Donald Trump supporters believe Russia is an ally, or at least a friendly nation to the United States. Some 19 percent of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s supporters view Russia favorably, compared to 24 percent of Trump backers. (Foreign Policy, 10.17.16)
  • French President François Hollande said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him Greek President Alexis Tsipras had asked if Russia could print drachmas, indicating Tsipras was prepared to take Greece out of the euro zone, according to a book written by two Le Monde journalists based on about 100 hours of interviews with Hollande. Greek media have reported that officials close to Tsipras denied he ever made the request. (Bloomberg, 10.16.16)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine:

  • No significant developments.

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Two Ukrainian soldiers died in the conflict zone in the Luhansk region on Oct. 14. One civilian was injured, according to local authorities. Also, rebels’ tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and heavy artillery moved to occupy a key crossroads and fire on Ukrainian troops occupying a hilltop in Shyrokine, 10 miles east of Mariupol. (UAToday, 10.15.16 The Times, 10.12.16)
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s usual statesman-like demeanor cracked on Sunday, when he told journalists that Western sanctions could “screw themselves.” Speaking to Russian journalists in the Indian city of Goa, Putin refused to use the term “counter-sanctions” when discussing Russia's boycott of Western food imports, insisting that they were merely “measures to defend the economy.” (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's state-run Channel One that Moscow had pulled out of the nuclear security pact on plutonium disposal on Oct. 3 because of "aggressive anti-Russia tendencies at the basis of the U.S. policy on Russia." He pointed to NATO deployments, infrastructure and missile placement as examples of "aggressive steps that have a direct bearing on our national interests and can affect our national security." (CNN, 10.18.16)
  • Due to EU sanctions and the retaliatory measures imposed by Russia, trade between Hungary and Russia dropped by nearly half in 2015, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has said. He said it is hard to imagine the EU being competitive on the world stage without “the pragmatic rebuilding of cooperation between the EU and Russia.” (AP, 10.18.16)
  • Britain’s NatWest Bank has told Kremlin-funded broadcaster Russia Today that it will no longer be able to service the channel in two months' time. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16)
  • Mikhail Fradkov, the former chief of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service may be kept from heading Russia's state railway company over fears that his association with Western sanctions could cause the firm to default, the Kommersant reported on Oct. 18. (The Moscow Times, 10.18.16)
  • President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has issued a decree enacting the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine dated Sept. 16, 2016 on the application of special personal economic and other restrictive measures. (Interfax, 10.17.16)
  • The Ukrainian government has banned a group of Russian money transfer services from operating in Ukraine, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported. The Golden Crown, Unistream, Kolibri, Leader, Anelik, and the Blizko money transfer systems will all have their activities halted and their contracts with residents of Ukraine cancelled. (The Moscow Times, 10.18.16)

Red lines:

  • Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security wrote: “In the cyber domain the U.S. has not sufficiently drawn red lines. What kind of Russian hacking will result in either a proportionate, or even disproportionate, punitive response?” (Wall Street Journal, 10.16.16)

Factors and scenarios that could cause resumption of large-scale hostilities or lead to accidents between Western and Russian forces in Europe:

  • “The risks of miscalculations have increased. I agree with that. Especially with your forces being deployed, NATO forces, being deployed next to our borders, sometimes in a very—how shall [I] put it in a polite way—in a strange way, to show up the strength of the United States,” Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s top diplomat in the United States, said. (RFE/RL, 10.12.16)
  • German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called the current escalation of tensions created by souring relations between the United States and Russia "more dangerous" than the Cold War. "It's a fallacy to think that this is like the Cold War," Steinmeier said. "The current times are different and more dangerous." (RFE/RL, 10.08.16)
  • A Western diplomat said past confrontations between the West and Russia followed a typical pattern of a slow escalation and a mutual understanding on both sides when it was time to stop. With Russia's actions in Syria, its decision to put nuclear-capable missiles at NATO's doorstep and its cyberattacks, the diplomat said, "you have the impression they are escalating by themselves and going to the extreme." "This is a very different system," the diplomat said. "When you listen to these new Russians, this is not the strategic balance that we knew. It is unusual and dangerous." (CNN, 10.18.16)
  • Poland and Estonia expressed concerns Oct. 8 that Russia has moved nuclear-capable Iskander ballistic missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea, with one official saying Russia appears eager to dominate that body of water. Russia, meanwhile, says the missiles are being deployed as part of regular military maneuvers. The Russian Defense Ministry was not making a big secret of the relocation, using the missile system to verify parameters of a U.S. spy satellite, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters Oct. 8. (AP, TASS, 10.08.16)
  • Robert Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security wrote: “Consider a scenario that came up during a war-game I participated in last winter in Washington: Russia could send only a few hundred uniformed troops a few miles inside one of the Baltic states and then stop. It would be daring NATO to escalate by declaring an Article 5 violation—in which an attack on one ally is an attack on all.” (Wall Street Journal, 10.16.16)
  • Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are trying to find out who assassinated one of their commanders, considered a war criminal by Ukrainian authorities. Russian-born Arsen Pavlov, nicknamed "Motorola", was killed by a bomb blast in the lift of his apartment block in the city of Donetsk on Sunday. The rebels accused Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko of declaring war. (BBC, 10.17.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • EU leaders are to discuss covert Russian funding of far-right and fringe parties in Europe in light of intelligence findings that show that Moscow is interfering in European domestic politics. (Financial Times, 10.16.16)
  • The heads of NATO, the European Council and the European Parliament said they remain committed to taking a hard line against Russia while staying engaged in dialogue. At a forum in Germany on Oct. 10, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Martin Schulz called for a balanced policy toward Moscow. "We should not declare Russia to be a pariah. Instead, we should tell Moscow, 'We condemn what you are doing wrong but will keep the channel for dialogue open for when you're ready,'" Schulz said. (RFE/RL, 10.11.16)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has said he does not have "very high expectations" ahead of a four-way summit to address the conflict in eastern Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited Poroshenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and President François Hollande of France to Berlin on Oct. 19 to "assess the implementation” of the Minsk agreements. Russian President Vladimir Putin will take part in these talks, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday. The evening meeting in Berlin will represent Russian President Vladimir Putin's first visit to the German capital since the Ukraine crisis began and the first meeting of the four leaders in more than a year. (RFE/RL, Wall Street Journal, The Moscow Times, 10.18.16)
  • It will be hard to settle the conflict in southeastern Ukraine with President Poroshenko's propensity to avoid political commitments adhering to the Minsk peace deal, Vladimir Putin said. Recently, the Ukrainian leader has said that Kiev would not proceed with a political process in the region, as the issue of security has not been solved in the troubled part of the country. "I think it's only a pretext to not do anything in the political sphere," the Russian president said, recalling Kiev's obligations to amend Ukraine's constitution, as mentioned in the peace deal. "If it's not done, it means that the current government are not ready to solve the problem once and for all," Putin said. (Russia Today, 10.16.16)
  • Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the Ukrainian government is willing to move forward with local elections, but needs security improvements in the Donbass, eastern part of the country, under the control of Russian-backed separatists, as well as increased access to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16)
  • Ukraine's far-right Azov Battalion has officially created a political party. Greeted by chants of "Death to enemies!" at an inaugural party congress in Kiev on Oct. 14. The gathering coincided with traditional nationalist events marking the creation of the controversial World War II-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and to celebrate Ukrainian Cossacks. (RFE/RL, 10.14.16)
  • A new training range measuring more than 50 square kilometers will be set up in the Bryansk Region in west Russia by yearend, Russian Western Military District spokesman Igor Muginov has said. (TASS, 10.12.16) 
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has condemned “Russian aggression” in eastern Ukraine in a historic ruling. (The Moscow Times, 10.13.16)
  • Ukrainian authorities say a Ukrainian citizen with permanent residence in Russia has been detained in the northwestern city of Rivne. Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) said Oct. 9 that the man, whose identity was not disclosed, is suspected of attempting to obtain classified information by offering a large sum of money and Russian citizenship to a Ukrainian military officer. (RFE/RL, 10.10.16)
  • Ukraine has no plan to introduce visas for Russian citizens visiting their country, the Vedomosti newspaper reported. (The Moscow Times, 10.11.16)

News items for this digest curated by Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Russia Matters Project.