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The Ukrainian front lines
  Overviewof Current Issues in Ukraine during July 4 to July 17, 2016

Algirdas Karijotas
2016 09 19

Foreign Policy

During July 8 – 9, President Petro Poroshenko visited Warsaw where, during a NATO forum, he participated in a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission that took place at the same time, and took part in bilateral talks. Worthy of mention are talks with the Polish President Andrzej Duda, and prime ministers of the Netherlands, the UK and Italy Mark Rutte, David Cameron and Matteo Renzi, respectively. According to Poroshenko, the NATO-Ukraine Commission approved an ambitious, unprecedented complex package of aid to Ukraine. The package specifies about 40 sub-clusters of aid to the country. P. Poroshenko took part in a meeting of the G5+Ukraine Group, concerning the situation in Donbass and the implementation of the Minsk Protocol. President Poroshenko also awarded Alexander Vershbow, who’s nearing the end of his term as NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General, the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Ukraine, where he met with the country’s leaders, laid flowers at the Heaven’s Hundred, Holodomor Victims’, Unknown Soldier and the Babi Yar memorials, met with the head of Ukrainian President’s commission for Crimean Tatars Mustafa Dzhemilev, and the leader of the Crimean Mejlis Rufat Chubarov. The Ukrainian President and the Prime Minister of Canada signed a bilateral agreement concerning the establishment of a free trade zone between Canada and Ukraine. J. Trudeau diplomatically replied to Kiev’s request for lethal weaponry by stating, “With respect to further developments, we will look for ways how to best help Ukraine”. He also confirmed that Russia will be pressured as long as it fails to implement the Minsk Protocol. After the bilateral talks, President Poroshenko announced that both countries will immediately begin consultations regarding the liberalization of a visa regime.

The Canadian Prime Minister also visited the Canadian troops who are currently training Ukrainian paratroopers at the Yavoriv polygon near Kiev. Before the visit, the Ukrainian President requested the Prime Minister to extend the Canadian instructors’ stay in Ukraine, which was granted a few days later, prolonging the stay until the end of next year (the previous agreement stated that Canadian troops will stay in Ukraine until March, 2016). Additionally, Canada will also increase the number of its police instructors, 22 of whom are currently training Ukrainian police. It should be noted that Canadian representatives are currently participating in operations of OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Donbass. Canada also provides humanitarian aid for victims of the conflict in Donbass (in 2014, Canada pledged to assign 700 million dollars to this end).

On July 7, Kiev was visited by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, where he met with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy. The US promised to assign an additional 23 million dollars to humanitarian aid for the people of Donbass. It should be noted that the total amount of US aid to Donbass is already in excess of 135 million dollars. Ukraine was commended for its efforts in implementing the Minsk Protocol, and the progress it made towards developing a normative base for local elections and the status of individual districts of Donbass. It was also confirmed that the US will extend sanctions against Russia until it begins to implement the Minks Protocol, regarding the de-escalation of the situation in eastern Ukraine, which also applies to Crimea.

During July 13-14, President Poroshenko visited Azerbaijan. The presidents of both countries spoke in favour of increasing the turnover of bilateral trade by making use the newly rediscovered “Silk Road”, the railway line Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, and by offering appealing tariffs to clients. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev announced his plans to start military and technical cooperation with Ukraine, and develop mutual industrial complexes. Both presidents also discussed the possibility of jointly building Ukrainian AN-178 planes in Azerbaijan. P. Poroshenko said that the current status of Nagorno-Karabach region is unacceptable, and expressed his support for Azerbaijan’s territorial unity. In turn, Azerbaijan does not recognize the annexation of Crimea. The countries also signed a bilateral treaty regarding customs duties and cultural matters.

Domestic Policy

At the request of the International Republican Institute, a Ukrainian sociological group Rating carried out a routine public poll of the Ukrainian society (including the occupied Donbass and Crimea), which was financed by the Canadian government. According to the poll, the ten most popular politicians are as follow: N. Savchenko, A. Sadovyi, M. Saakashvili, A. Gricenko, Y. Tymoshenko, V. Groysman, V. Klitschko, O. Liashko, A. Parubiy, and P. Poroshenko. The most popular political parties are as follow: Opposition Bloc (10%), Baktivshchyna (9%), Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity” (7%), and parties Samopomich and the Ukrainian Radical Party (5% each). The remaining parties would fall below the 5% approval threshold for getting into parliament.

During July 17, an additional election to the Verkhovna Rada took place in seven majoritarian districts: Volhynia, Poltava, Ivano-Frankivsk, the Ukraine-controlled part of Luhansk, Kherson, and Chernihiv. In total, 371 candidates ran for election, 85 of whom were party delegates, and 286 ran independently. According to final results, the winners are: two candidates from UKROP and Baktivshchyna, one candidate from Our Land, and two independent candidates.

Ukraine’s Centre for Social Studies “Sofia” conducted a public opinion poll on relevant issues of domestic policy. Results showed that if the presidential election were to be held in the near future, 15.5% of respondents would vote for the leader of Baktivshchyna Yulia Tymoshenko, 13.3% - for the leader of Opposition Bloc Yuri Boyko, and 13% - for the current President Petro Poroshenko. If Nadezhda Savchenko would run for president, she would be backed by 10.8% of voters. The rating of political parties is as follows: 15.6% would vote for the Opposition Bloc, 12.8% - for Baktivshchyna, 12.2% - for Petro Poroshenko Bloc “Solidarity”, 8.6% - for the Ukrainian Radical Party, 8.5% - for Samopomich, and 5.2% - for Mikheil Saakashvili’s party, if it existed.

National Security

During a session in Tbilisi, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a “Resolution on Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol”.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is developing an extended list of “Savchenko-Sencov” sanctions. Currently, the list consists of 84 Russian officers who contributed to the persecution of Ukrainian citizens. The list will be supplemented with the names of those who persecuted other incarcerated Ukrainians.

The management of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kiev presented a report “Accountability for Killings in Ukraine from January 2014 to May 2016”. The report is concerned with the growing tendency towards murderous crime. The report mentions 181 deaths during the Maidan protests and the violence in Odessa on May 2, 2014 that resulted in 50 deaths. Tens of thousands died in the eastern part of the country (the report mentions 2,000 civilians). Concern is voiced that no one took responsibility and was punished for the aforementioned deaths. The report also suggests an increased procuratorial supervision of troops located in the conflict zone in the east.

On Saturday, the Ukrainian President signed several decrees, including one regarding the appointment of Pavel Demchin as First Deputy of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) and head of the Special Board for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime. The President also appointed a number of new SSU department heads and regional administrators. The First Deputy Head of SSU, Viktor Trepak, was relieved of duty on April 14.

A joint training session of the FBI and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine’s Special Police Subdivision KORD (the Ukrainian “Operative and Rapid Actions Corps”) took place. The session was focused on weapon handling, extreme driving, communication and apprehension. The American instructors demonstrated the US special police division SWAT’s base level of readiness for special operations.

Economic News

Ukraine’s Prime Minister V. Groysman welcomed the US Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews for talks on the development of trade and further bilateral economic cooperation. The countries discussed the US aid extended for the establishment of the Office for Accompanying Investment under of the Ukrainian government, which was briefly discussed during the Ukrainian Prime Minister’s visit to the US a month ago. Several days later, V. Groysman met with the other visitors to Ukraine – the Deputy Assistant Secretaries of the US Energy Department Jonathan Elkind and David Mohler. During the meeting there were also talks of increased cooperation in matters of energy.

In response to Russian sanctions, which extended the embargo against Ukrainian goods in the Russian market that came into effect on January 1, 2016, the Ukrainian government also extended its embargo on Russian goods. Embargoes on both sides will stay in effect until the end of 2017.

According to the data of Ukraine’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, shadow economy during 2015 fell by 3%, reaching 40% of GDP. This constitutes a break in the tendencies that had been rising since 2013 (peak was reached in the first quarter of 2015, when shadow economy constituted 46% of GDP).

Ukraine’s Minister of Finance Alexander Danilyuk announced the end of the factual negotiations with the IMF. The only thing left to do now is wait for the decision of the IMF’s executive board. It should be noted that there’s worry as this month’s IMF executive board’s meeting schedule does not involve the Ukrainian question, and the Verkhovna Rada did not pass a number laws, necessary for collaboration with the IMF. The Fund demanded the revocation of suspended inspections in the capital market and bank secrets. There are also disagreements between debtors and shareholders of the Naftogaz Ukrainy company. Meanwhile, the leader of the Baktivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko is criticizing the government for its incompetency in talks with the IMF, and thinks it could ruin the country economically. She pointed out that the memorandum she signed with the IMF in 2009 during the economic crisis specifies taxes for consumers that are tens of times lower than they are now. 

Mariupol’s Illich Steel and Iron Works had started making special cold rolled steel sheets and other workpieces for Turkey, and hot rolled products for Poland. The factory had also started supplying industrial-grade cold rolled steel, awarded the American quality standard ASTM, to the US. The Avdiivka Coke Plant, which belongs to the same Metinvest group as the Illich Steel and Iron Works, had increased its production of coke by 75% - to 1,227 million tons during the first half of this year (in 2014, the plant made 2,292 million tons of coke). Last year, the plant, situated near the border with ATO countries, was not operating at full capacity due to frequent shootings. The plant’s production meets the standard ISO 9001:2008.

Compared to the same period last year, gas extraction in Ukraine, excluding businesses in the annexed Crimea and Donbass, rose by 2% - to 10 billion m3. It should be noted that the consumption of gas during that time period was 16.1 billion m3(during the first half of 2015, it was 18.4 billion m3). During the first half of this year, the transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory rose by 31% - to 38 billion m3. In 2015, transit of Russian gas was 67.1 billion m3, and in 2014 – 59.4 billion m3.

During the first half of this year, car manufacturing fell by 34% (to 2.095 units). It should be noted that in 2015 car manufacturing fell 3.5 times as compared to 2014 (8.244 units). In 2014, car manufacturing fell by 43%.

Military-Defence News

Anatoliy Petrenko, Director of the Department of Military Policy, Strategic Planning and International Cooperation of the Ministry of Defence (MD) of Ukraine, stated that during the past two years NATO had assigned 130 million US dollars for the rebuilding of Ukraine’s defensive capacity. During the first half of this year, Ukraine’s armed forces (AF) had received 60 million US dollars in aid from foreign countries. It should be noted that during 2014-2015 the country received 57 million US dollars’ worth of aid from 20 foreign countries. The key donors were the US, Canada, Great Britain and Lithuania.

Ukraine was visited by Vakhtang Kapanadze, Chief of the General Staff of Georgian Armed Forces. During the meeting with Ukraine’s Minister of Defence Stepan Poltorak, Vakhtang discussed Russia’s policies regarding Ukraine and Georgia, as well as shared experiences.

Kiev was visited by a delegation from the US Air Force (AF), headed by Secretary Deborah Lee James. The delegation was welcomed by Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Defence Ivan Rusnak. The parties discussed issues regarding bilateral cooperation within the context of Ukraine’s military-political situation, the perspectives of developing the country’s AF, and prospects for financial aid.

The US had transferred four AN/TPQ-36 anti-artillery, and ten AN/TPQ-49 radars to Ukraine in a solemn ceremony at the Boryspil International Airport, which was attended by President P. Poroshenko and the US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. It should be noted that the AN/TPQ-36s are capable of detecting an enemy’s mine-throwers, artillery and rocket launchers within a 14.5-24 km radius, and tracking up to 99 airborne projectiles or rockets, whereas the AN/TPQ-49s can detect an enemy’s mine-throwers within a 10 km radius, identify and track up to 10 airborne projectiles, and detect artillery shots and rockets within a 50-100 km radius.

This year, Ukrainian troops will take part in four international training sessions abroad and one at home (Maple Arch 2016) – at the Yavoriv polygon. During the first part of this year, Ukrainian troops participated in 14 international training sessions as observers or staff officers. It should be noted that as of today 507 Ukrainian troops are taking part in various international operations and missions.

Ukrainian troops will take part in the following training sessions abroad: 15 troops and 38 officers from the battalion’s tactical group staff will participate in the training session Saber Guardian 2016 on July 26 – August 7 in Romania; 50 troops with technical equipment and armaments (a mine-thrower squad) will take part in the training session Flaming-Thunder 2016 on August 1–12 in Lithuania; 30 troops will take part in the training session Light Avalanche-2016 on September 19-23 in Romania; and 70 troops will take part in the training session REGEX-2016 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

According to Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, British instructors plan to train 4,000 Ukrainian troops by March of 2017. The Brits are optimistic about bilateral military cooperation.

The President of Ukraine confirmed the new trademarks and decorations of the military uniform. Five-pointed stars will be exchanged for quadrilateral rhombuses.

The Ministry of Defence had ordered the broadening of the list of official positions that can be taken up by women. Before the new decree, women could serve in the fields of medicine, communications, food and accounting – now that list includes over a 100 different positions.

During a flight training session at the airfield of Starokonstantinovka in the province of Khmelnitskyi, a Ukrainian AF plane Su-25 went down and crashed. The pilot managed to catapult into safety.

The international journalistic expert group Bellingcat, which is currently conducting research on the case of Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777-200, which was shot down over Ukrainian territory on July 17 while on flight MH-17, published a report, titled “MH-17: The Open Source Investigation, Two Years Later”. The report states that “… it is our opinion the Buk missile launcher that shot down MH17 originated in Russia, and the Russian government has lied, faked evidence, and plagiarized blog posts in attempt to place blame elsewhere”.

The report states that the satellite image, which the Russian Ministry of Defence supplied on July 21, 2014, “[had] been so heavily manipulated that it lacks any credibility as evidence” – it is of very low quality and indicative of the Russian government’s efforts to mislead the international community.

Anti-Terrorist Operation

During July 3-17, there had been roughly 51 to 77 breaches of truce per day, resulting in 21 deaths and 101 casualties among Ukrainian troops. One Ukrainian solder was ambushed and taken hostage in Marinka. About 40 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were reported, some of which came from Russian territory.

In the direction of Luhansk, truce was breached at Popasna, Novoalexandrivka, Novozvanivka, Stanychno-Luhansk, Syze, Old Aidar, Lopaskyne, and Krymska, as well as the defunct Zolotoy checkpoint. A saboteur group of 20 separatists was detected in Troitska. After a battle, the enemy retreated, leaving three wounded soldiers, one of whom later died. The other two soldiers were taken hostage.

In the direction of Donetsk, truce was breaches at the rim of Svetlodarsk near Svetlodarsk, Troitska, Luhanska, Travneve, Zaitseve near Horlivka, Maiors’ke, Nevelskoye, Verchnotoretsk, Novoselivka, Novhorods’ka, Mykolavijka, and the second Novoselivka, Avdiivka, Opytne, Peski situated in the direction of Donetsk, as well as near the Donetsk International Airport.

In the direction of Mariupol, truce was breached at Krasnohorivka, Marjinka, Bohdanivka, Novohrihor’evka, Starohnativka, Chermalyk, Novotroits’ke, Talakivka, Hnutove, Berezovaya, Pavlopil’, Hranitne, Lebedinksoye, Vodyanyky, and Shyrokyne.

The Permanent Council of the OSCE had extended the Observer Mission at the Russian-Ukrainian checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk.

On July 13, a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group took place in Minsk, regarding the special status of Donbass. Members of the political subgroup and the OSCE coordinator Pierre Morel said they hadn’t seen Ukrainian politicians’ declared bills, which will soon be discussed at the Verkhovna Rada. A delegate of the Russian Federation Boris Gryzlov stated that the text of the law declaring the special status of Donbass should be discussed in the “Normandy format” and become the basis of regulating the conflict situation. Due to elections, there has been little progress in the area of administration. The situation is made worse by the constant change of the appointed Ukrainian delegates to the subgroup.

Although both sides acknowledge the importance of exchanging captives, Ukraine did not receive an answer to its offer to exchange 50 separatists for 25 gravely ill captive Ukrainians. Ukrainian delegation’s question whether the Russian side would like to learn about the condition of the recently captured Russian soldiers was met with the statement that there are no Russian soldiers in Donbass. It should be noted that during the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels, Russian Federation’s representative to NATO Alexander Grushko stated that Russia is not engaged in any military action in Ukraine. Meanwhile, separatist representatives support the exchange of captives in accordance with the formula “everyone for everyone” if Ukraine implements the amnesty declared in the Minsk Protocol. Both sides agreed to develop cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and provide for the identification of the deceased and the visiting of detainees.

OSCE representative Martin Sajdik suggested solving the issue of transferring border control back to Ukraine by creating a new subgroup in the Trilateral Contact Group. The Ukrainian delegation noted that without border control and its closure, solving other issues is impossible.

A document regarding the distancing of both countries’ combat units from each other in ten areas has been agreed upon and will soon be signed. Currently existing checkpoints will be turned into safety zones. Conflicting parties were urged to take every possible measure to avoid civilian casualties.

After a visit with V. Putin in Moscow, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said that despite many as yet unresolved issues, talks at the Kremlin were productive, which makes the resolution of the situation in Ukraine hopeful, and that the conversation with V. Putin was “especially straightforward and open”. 

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