Ukraine Conflict Monitor, Oct. 18-25, 2016

Ukraine 101:

  • No significant developments.

West’s leverage over Russia:

  • Brussels is nearing a draft settlement with Gazprom to end a five-year antitrust probe into alleged overcharging, a move that risks a backlash from eastern European states angered by the Russian energy giant sidestepping a fine.  (Financial Times, 10.24.16)

Russia’s leverage over West:

  • Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto 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)
  • The Russian spacecraft Soyuz MS-02 successfully docked with the International Space Station, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced on Friday.  The spacecraft delivered three new crew members to the space station, Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryzhikov and Andrei Borisenko, and American astronaut Shane Kimbrough. (The Moscow Times, 10.21.16)
  • In a letter to the Pentagon on Oct. 21, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter said he was concerned that a contract to provide Internet service to deployed soldiers could allow the use of Russian satellites, jeopardizing troops' privacy and security. Although there is no provision that specifically bars the use of Russian satellites, Hunter said that it's clear Russia is no ally and that the Pentagon should not be using its hardware. (The Washington Post, 10.21.16)
  • “European critics have called Nordstream-2 dangerous and politically inspired because Nord Stream 2 would dramatically increase Europe’s and Germany’s dependency on Russian-sourced natural gas to 80% and 60%, respectively,” writes former International Herald Tribune editor John Vinocur. (Wall Street Journal, 10.24.16)
  • Rumen Radev, the main opposition contender in Bulgaria's presidential election, vowed on Oct. 24 to seek better relations with Russia and promised to work on lifting European Union sanctions against Moscow that he called harmful to both sides. (Reuters, 10.24.16)

Russia’s leverage over Ukraine and Ukraine’s leverage over Russia:

  • Russia plans to replace defense industry imports from Ukraine by the end of next year, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said. (The Moscow Times, 10.20.16)

Casualties and costs for Russia, West and Ukraine:

  • Legislation suspending a Russia-U.S. agreement on the disposal of plutonium was approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber on Oct. 24. (RFE/RL, 10.24.16)
  • 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. (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 beginning in December. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russia is in contact with the U.K. about the issue, a day after she warned that the authorities in Moscow will respond “in a practical manner” to the move. (The Moscow Times, 10.17.16, Bloomberg, 10.19.16)
  • Russia is having to shrink its embassy in London due to extended delays by British authorities in issuing diplomatic visas, its ambassador has said, a sign of the deep deterioration in relations between the two countries. (Financial Times, 10.22.16)

Red lines and tripwires:

  • Norway will allow U.S. troops to be stationed on its soil for a limited period beginning in 2017, the Norwegian defense ministry said on Monday, the first time foreign troops have been posted on its territory since the end of World War II. Some 330 U.S. Marines will be stationed at the Vaernes military base in central Norway from January, the ministry said in a statement, adding that the trial would be reviewed in the course of the year. (Reuters, 10.24.16)

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

  • Ex-chief of Britain’s’ MI6 service John Sawer wrote in Financial Times: “War between the great powers is once again a possibility.” To prevent a war and destabilization he advocates for “an approach…that puts global stability first…That does not mean a return to cold war-style hostility. The 19th-century Concert of Europe, in which six powers preserved an equilibrium that lasted nearly 100 years, might be a better parallel.” (Financial Times, 10.19.16)
  • “The use of nuclear weapons in a war or terrorist attack in the foreseeable future could be a real and growing danger,” according to senior scholar of the Carnegie Moscow Center Alexey Arbatov. (Carnegie Moscow Center, 10.17.16)

Arming and training of Ukrainian forces by Western countries:

  • No significant developments.

Strategies and actions recommended:

  • Privately, some of Hillary Clinton’s longtime advisers are already thinking about what mix of sanctions, diplomatic isolation and international condemnation they might put together if they take office to deal with Mr. Vladimir Putin and the fragile economic state he runs, an update of the “containment” strategy that George F. Kennan formulated for President Harry S. Truman in 1947. (New York Times, 10.20.16)


  • No significant developments.

Other important news:

  • The leaders of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia agreed to draw up a road map by the end of next month to carry out the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine. After six hours of talks on the wars in Ukraine and Syria in Berlin on Oct. 19-20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the road map would enable all sides to keep pushing ahead with the 2015 Minsk peace agreement. The foreign ministers of the four countries are to discuss the road map in more detail in November, Merkel said. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said an agreement had been reached that the road map should be adopted by the end of November.  Poroshenko said they agreed to withdrawals of Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in four new areas on the front line of the fighting in the Donbass region. Poroshenko was also quoted as saying that an agreement was reached on the deployment of an armed police mission in the areas held by pro-Russian separatists. But Merkel told reporters that such a step would first require Ukraine to pass laws for local elections in the disputed territory, something Kiev hasn’t yet done. However, Poroshenko said elections in Donbass would not occur until all foreign forces are withdrawn. Meanwhile, the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics rejected the proposal for an armed Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission altogether. (The Washington Post, 10.19.16, RFE/RL, 10.20.16, AP, 10.19.16, The Moscow Times, 10.20.16, RFE/RL, 10.24.16)
  • Vladimir Putin was accompanied to the Normandy Format talks in Berlin by his aide Vladislav Surkov, who had been banned from traveling to the European Union as part of the sanctions imposed on Russia for the annexation of Crimea. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told the DPA newswire that an exception had been granted to Surkov for the occasion. The evening meeting in Berlin became 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. (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16, The Washington Post, 10.19.16)
  • To break the gridlock on Minsk-2, an idea floated by European diplomats before the Normandy Format talks on Wednesday in Berlin was a ''security lite'' option: the withdrawal of heavy weaponry to field storage sites rather than back to Russia as a precondition of political reform, according to Hryhoriy M. Nemyria, a member of Ukraine's Parliament. The Europeans, he said, want Ukraine to take this deal, particularly given the many other Russian-related security issues. (New York Times, 10.19.16)
  • 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 (OSCE). (Wall Street Journal, 10.18.16)
  • Although the Minks Accords have largely not been implemented, there will be no replacement for the agreements, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. (TASS, 10.22.16)
  • The trial of a Kazakh citizen suspected of fighting alongside Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine started in Kazakhstan on Oct. 24.  (RFE/RL, 10.24.16)
  • Artem Shevalev, Ukraine's former deputy finance minister and now its representative at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said the December timeframe for the next $1.3 billion (£1.06 billion) International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan was "extremely ambitious and challenging." (Reuters, 10.25.16)

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