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The Ukrainian front lines
  Overviewof events in Ukraine for 2016 April 11–24

Algirdas Karijotas
2016 06 13

Foreign policy

On April 12, the official results of referendum on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with EU, which was held six days earlier, were announced. The turnout reached 32.28 %; 61% voted against, while only 38.21% supporting the agreement. The Dutch Government will present the evaluation of the results to the Parliament in September. This month, the European Commission will offer a visa free regime to Ukraine. According to Reuters, Jean-Claude Junker, Head of the European Commission has already promised that to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in March.

On April 20, President Petro Poroshenko paid a visit to Romania. Ukraine considers the opportunity to create the trilateral brigade. In the context of the annexation of the Crimea. Ukraine agreed to join the Romanian initiative to create the Black Sea Navy unit under NATO command. Sides decided upon common patrol of state borders; they also discussed the possibility to stretch a bridge on Tisa river between Solotvyno in Ukraine and Sigetu in Romania. Ukraine suggested Romania use its underground natural gas storages and build the gas transportation hub between the two countries. Apart from that, on May 9 sides signed an agreement to abolish payments for the long-term visas to Ukrainian citizens.

Domestic policy

On April 14, the vote for the resignation of A. Yatsenyuk and appointment of the new Prime Minister happened. Verkhovna Rada accepted Yatseniyuk's application and approved the selection of the former Chairman of Verkhovna Rada V. Groysman, who was introduced to Rada by President Poroshenko. The new coalition of PPB (Petro Poroshenko Bloc) and People’s Front has 227 members (the minimum for a ruling coalition is 226) and the premier was appointed by 257 votes. Groysman named these main threats: populism in politics, corruption and ineffective management. He also promised to prepare a governmental anti-crisis action plan within a month.

With Groysman’s appointment as Prime Minister, Groysman's former deputy, Andrej Parubij has become the new Chairman of Rada. In turn, Irina Gerashenko, deputy from PPB fraction (also member of the Minsk Trilateral Contact group political subgroup) has been appointed as deputy of Chairman of Verkhovna Rada. On the same day, Rada has confirmed the composition of the Government with six deputy ministers by 239 votes, which was arranged on the eve by the ruling coalition.

According to latest polls from independent sociological research group Reiting, Batkyvchina party is the leading one. If elections were to be held in the nearest weekend. respondents would vote as following: Batkyvchina would get 13 %, Opposition Bloc -11%, potential future party of Micheil Saakashvili -10%, Self-Defense Party – 10%, PPB Solidarity 9%, Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko – 7%. The following parties did not manage to cross the 5 % barrier: Svoboda – 4%, “Civil Position” and Ukrop – 3 %, Revival Party and National Movement of Dmytro Yarosh – 2 % Right Sector and People’s Front – 1%. 45% of the respondents claimed that they support the idea of snap elections, while 30 % would oppose that. 10 % would not vote at all and 16 % were not able to decide. It should be noted that 75% of respondents were not satisfied with the activities of the President.

Ukraine’s security issues

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when they discussed the issue of liberating the convicted Ukrainians, including N. Savchenko. Later Poroshenko had an opportunity to talk to Savchenko by phone. Reportedly, after having this call, N. Savchenko promised to stop her hunger-strike.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also demanded to stop forceful Russian naturalization of the detained and convicted Ukrainian citizen G. Afanasyev and return him back to Ukraine as soon as possible, including the remaining Ukrainian citizens who are kept in Russia for their political views.

Meanwhile, K. Dolgov, Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that no less than 100 Russian citizens are kept in Ukrainian prisons, besides, 130 more were convicted of crimes committed in military actions in Donbass. Russian soldiers – A. Aleksandrov and J. Jerofeev who were detained in Luhansk region last year have received 14 years in prison after the court decision, which was announced in Kiev on April 18.

Ukraine’s Presidential Commissioner for Crimean Tatar issues, Mustapha Dzhemilev told toAnadolu” agency that Russia’s activities purposed for banning Crimean Tatar Mejlis activities can be equaled to the declaration of war to the Crimean Tatars. In response to Russia’s actions, the Chairman of Verhovna Rada, Andrey Parubiy, called for the withdrawal of UN Security Council sitting. Previously, Russian Ministry of Justice has already put Mejlis in the blacklist of organizations, suspected in extremist activities. Russia argues that Mejlis is not registered in Russia, while 13-15 % of 1.9 million Crimeans are Crimean Tatars.

During his visit in Zaporizhia President Poroshenko said that in last 12 months state intelligence services have blocked activities of more than 300 reconnaissance-sabotage groups. According to the President, 89% of these groups used self-made explosive devices, which they were taught to make in Russian training camps in Kursk, Belgorod and Rostov regions.

Economy issues

Observing domestic political situation in Ukraine, US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt stated that financial assistance to Ukraine from the US, the IMF and EU will depend on activities of the new government, which include the ability to achieve progress in critical period and the appointment of the General Prosecutor, who enjoys popular support. Immediately after the formation of the new government Poroshenko and US Vice-President Joe Biden have discussed the following issues: the composition of the new government, the appointment of a new General Prosecutor, the necessity of reforms, the fight against corruption and the situation in Donbass. Parties reached a consensus that in the short run countries will sign the third agreement on US $1 billion loan to Ukraine. Otherwise, Ukraine hoping to get $2,8 billion loan (1.7 billion from the IMF, 1 billion from the US and 105 million from EU), has to adopt 24 laws by May. Moreover, as a result of conversations between Swiss and Ukrainian Presidents in Davos, the National Bank of Switzerland granted a $200 million loan to Ukraine.

As a result of Russia’s transit cargo restrictions to Ukraine, which were introduced since the beginning of this year, Ukraine’s export to Central Asia and Caucasus countries dropped by half (by 49% to Kazakhstan, 48% - to tother countries). The Ukrainian government has worked out that due to Russia’s sanctions Ukraine’s trade for 2012-2015 period has fallen by $98 billion, although recently Russia used to be Ukraine’s largest trade partner. In 2011 Ukraine’s exports to Russia were $19.82 billion, import – $29.13 billion. In 2015 the figures were $4.83 billion and $7.49 billion, respectively.

Military and defense issues

Petr Pavel, the Chief of NATO military committee paid visit to Ukraine. NATO and Czech Republic Army general met with Ukraine’s defense minister Stepan Poltorak. Chief of the General Staff, Army General Viktor Muzhenko and has also visited the paratrooper training center in Zhytomyr. Pavel has confirmed NATO further support to Ukraine was satisfied with the result of military reform in Ukraine.

President Poroshenko dismissed the first deputy of Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) also head of the Highest Anticorruption and Anticrime Board Victor Trepak and his deputy Vitalij Jalovenko. The hiefs of Vinica and Chmelnyckiy regional boards were relieved of their duties as well.

Colonel Vladimir Panko, the representative of the Justice Department of the Defense Ministry informed that due to alcohol abuse 126 death cases and heavy injuries have been documented in 2015. 66 cases took place in the ATO zone. During that period more than 9000 soldiers have been detained for law enforcement irregularities.

Ukraine’s defense minister Poltorak has reported that from the beginning of this year more than 21 thousand people came to serve in the army on a contract and that their number is growing. As a result, it became possible to demobilize 31 thousand soldiers without announcing additional mobilization. Minister said that currently 250 thousand people serve in the Ukrainian Army and also gave his preferable ratio: 70 % of contract soldiers and 30% of other personnel and compulsory service soldiers. What is more, Ukrainian government has confirmed the number of young conscripts – 16615. 8015 of them will serve in armed forces, 4000 – in the National Guard, 4000 - in border service and 600 – in the State Protection Board.

The following facts of Ukrainian military industry are worth mentioning. Major General Laurian Anastasof, chief of the Air Staff of Romania paid visit to Ukraine with a delegation. Romanians were negotiating over repair and modernization of their Mig-21 fighters in Ukrainian aircraft repair plants. Turkish IT company Havelsan which takes up creation and logistics of weaponry control software and Ukrainian defense industry enterprise Ukroboronprom has agreed to increase cooperation in aviation. Ukrainian Air Force working group, led by chief engineer Major General Piotro Skorenky has discussed the issue of modernization of Ukrainian jets and helicopters with the Israeli Orbit company, which specializes in creation of integrated communication systems.

US ambassador to Ukraine G. R. Pyatt has visited Antonov aviation factory. USA is quite optimistic towards perspectives of future cooperation in technology and production with Ukraine. The ambassador positively evaluated the technological and production potential and noticed, that 25 US companies already participate in common projects with Ukrainian aviation industry companies (worth mentioning is the modernization of An-148 and An-158, also projected essential modernization of An-32 jet – An-132 commissioned by Saudi Arabia).

During DSA-2016 exhibition-conference, which took place in Malaysia, Turkish deputy of Defense minister Suay Alpay and head of Ukrainian enterprise Ukroboronprom”Roman Romanov have signed a military-technical cooperation plan. Turkish experience as of NATO member is very important to Ukraine as soon as it seeks to adopt NATO standards. During the event, Malaysian deputy of defense minister Mohdas Johari bin Baharum offered Ukroboronprom to produce armored equipment and anti-tank weaponry together. DSA exhibition-conference and military events are being held from 1988 every second year.

Anti-terrorist operation (ATO)

During April 11-24 period 11 Ukrainian soldiers died and 51 were injured in the ATO zone. The number of armistice irregularities fluctuated from several dozens to over hundred per day. Two years’ anniversary of ATO happened on April 14-th.

In Luhansk sector armistice irregularities happened in Stanychno-Luhansk, Trokhizbenka and Zolotoye. As a result of these violations Stanychno-Luhansk border checkpoint did not work. In Donetsk sector situation remained strained in Horlivka-Avdijivka frontline, also around entire Horlivka perimeter and Svitlodarske arc close to Zaycevo and Mayorsk settlements and Luhansk village.

On April 24, few remarkable separatist attacks were carried out. A rough violation of ceasefire happened when separatists have fired around 50 shots from 152 mm. Msta-B howitzer at Ukrainian rearward forces located 20 km away in Pravdivka settlement. In order to adjust the accuracy of the shots radar intelligence complex Zoopark-1 has been used. One Ukrainian soldier has been wounded as a result of drone attack which dropped combustible cartridges on nearby rearward positions of the Ukrainian army.

In Mariupol region ceasefire was broken near Novotroick, Novohnativka, Vodianoye, Sirokoye settlements.

On April 20, the regular Trilateral contact working group meeting was held in Minsk. Leonid Kuchma, the head of the Ukrainian group, has been participating in group discussions in the video-conference regime. The political subgroup continued to discuss the electoral models in Donbas, amnesty and regulations of previous agreements. On the eve, during the sitting of the National reform council in Kiev, President P. Poroshenko said that in order to implement the decentralization of Ukraine it is necessary to adopt around 500 laws and normative acts.

The representative of the humanitarian subgroup I. Geraschenko clarified that 648 people are considered missing due to the conflict in Donbass and that Red Cross is involved in the searches. According to the revised data from Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) 126 foreigners are held in captivity by separatists, 12 of them are convicted and imprisoned in Russia. Ukrainian delegation has acknowledged the fact, that there was some certain progress in N. Savchenko liberation case and hope to change prisoners by the Orthodox Easter (on May 1st). Donetsk “people’s” republic has offered to apply the 25 for 50 approach for prisoners’ exchange (i.e., to change 25 Ukrainian soldiers into 50 Donetsk “servicemen” and civilians). Ukrainian representatives protested against the plan of separatists to organize military parade in Donetsk, on May 9-th. Apart of that, earlier, the agreement was met and regular, fifth group, consisting of 20 imprisoned, who were held in Donbas separatist institutions, were returned back to Ukraine on April 20-th. Overall Ukraine managed to return back 87 prisoners.

Ambassador Martin Sajdik, the head of ESBO group, urged both sides of the conflict to reach agreement on opening access to people crossing on Easter occasion in those checkpoints, which were closed because of shootings. M. Sajdik has also pointed out, that there is progress in restoration of railway and water supply infrastructure; however, that is directly related to the security issues and he blamed both sides in being responsible for shootings.

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