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The Ukrainian front lines
  Overview of Events in Ukraine during September 26 – October 09, 2016

Algirdas Karijotas
2016 11 22

Foreign Policy

On September 26, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee gave its consent to a visa-free regime with Ukraine by 38 votes to four against with one abstention. Before the final decision is announced, however, a so-called “clear position” will have to be forged between the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament itself. In accordance with European Union procedures, the final decision will be made through voting in the European Parliament. In case the proposition is confirmed, the parliamentarians’ decision will have to be ratified by the foreign affairs ministers of the EU’s committee.

The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, had visited Ukraine to participate in the 75thanniversary of the Babi Yar massacre. During the visit, presidents of both countries had met separately.

The funeral of the country’s former president Shimon Peres was attended by a relatively large company of state leaders, including P. Poroshenko. P. Poroshenko also met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just like the conversation with Israel’s president R. Rivlin, the meeting concerned the development of bilateral relations, the intensification of commercial/economic collaboration and the activation of the free trade process between the two countries. P. Poroshenko had encouraged Israeli companies to take a more active part in the privatization processes currently underway in Ukraine.

In Israel, P. Poroshenko also met with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, to discuss issues regarding the coordination of actions concerning the ratification of the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement. A week before the meeting, the Dutch Prime Minister had said that based on the referendum which took place during April, the Dutch government will probably refuse to ratify the Agreement.

Domestic Policy

The Razumkov Centre has published the results of a public opinion survey, which show that 44.3% of respondents would vote in favour of NATO membership in case a referendum was held, and 38.1% would vote against. 32.8% of respondents are in favour of Ukraine’s non-block status and 38.4% are against it. 49.7% of Ukrainians are in favour of membership in the EU and 35.3% are against. 19.2% of respondents hold a visa-free regime with the EU to be “very important”, 25.7% consider it “important”, 22.3% think it’s “slightly important”, and 26.7% deem it “unimportant”. 36.6% of respondents are in favour of Ukraine’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States and 43.8% are against it. Interestingly, 18.3% of respondents would be in favour of a union between Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, while as many as 69.1% would be against it. 29% of respondents are in favour of a visa-free regime with Russia and 52.1% are against. 55% of respondents are in favour of terminating all diplomatic relations with RF and 2.8% are against.

According to research carried out by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, in case of early elections to the Verkhovna Rada, seven parties would get in. A comparison of data gathered during the past six months has revealed that Baktivschchyna has lost some of its support, while P. Poroshenko’s Bloc has grown in popularity. Ratings of other political structures – the Opposition Bloc, the Samopomich, the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko and the Civil Position – had remained unchanged. Predictions hold that 41% of citizens would take part in the elections. 31.1% of respondents said they hadn’t yet decided who to vote for, and 5.8% said they would vote against all parties. Currently, trust in the parties looks something like this: Bativshchyna – 15.4%, Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc – 14.5%, the Opposition Bloc – 13.1%, Samopomich – 10.3%, the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko – 9.6%, the Civil Position 6.0%, and the For Life Party – 5.3%. The remaining parties would not cross the 5% barrier: Svoboda (3.9%), UKROP (3.5%), the Right Sector (2.2 %), Chvilia (1.9%), and the Governmental Initiative of Yarosh (1.8 %), Vidrodzhenia (1.7%). The remaining 11% of respondents would give their votes to other parties.

Reiting, another Ukrainian sociological research group, had announced its results, showing that 35% of Ukrainians feel nostalgic for the USSR, 50% are not and 15% are undecided. During the past few years, the number of those nostalgic for the USSR has increased by 4%. The survey has shown that people who are nostalgic for the USSR support the Opposition Bloc’s leader Yuriy Boyko (68%), the leader of the For Life Party, Vadim Rabinovich (52%) and the former military pilot and national hero Nadiya Savchenko (44%).

The judicial reform, ratified by the Verkhovna Rada on June 2, entered into force on September 30. The reform was consolidated by a law on changing the relevant constitutional procedures.

Domestic Safety News

According to the recently published preliminary conclusions regarding the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 tragedy, which resulted in 298 deaths: the plane was shot down by a Russian missile. An international criminal investigation, performed in the Netherlands, regarding the circumstances of the tragedy has shown that the plane was shot down by a missile launched from the antiaircraft missile system Buk. The system was brought over from Russia to carry out the mission and then returned afterwards.

Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor Ruslan Kravchenko had announced that the research has yielded evidence regarding which divisions of the Russian military took part in the occupation of Crimea: the 31stAirborne Brigade, the 45thGuards Detached Spetsnaz Brigade (m/u 28337), the 18thGuards Motorized Rifle Brigade, the 58thArmy, the 98thGuards Airborne Division (m/u 65451), the 76thGuards Air Assault Division, and the 15thSeparate Motorized Rifle Brigade (m/u 90600). During the occupation of Crimea, the distinguishing tactical signs of the military equipment and soldier uniforms that belong to these military units were disguised in advance.

On September 30, Roman Sushchenko, a correspondent of the National News Agency of Ukraine (Ukrinform) was arrested in Moscow. He was charged with espionage. The Lefortofsky Court ofMoscow sanctioned his arrest for two months. The Russian FSB has identified the detainee as a Ukrainian military intelligence (GUR) colonel, who had had been collecting secret information on the Russian military forces and the National Guard. R. Sushchenko was arrested on the first day of arriving to Russia on vacation. The Ukrinform had distributed a declaration regarding the correspondent’s unlawful arrest and emphasised that he has been working at the agency since 2002, and was appointed to France in 2010. The Ukrainian GUR has called the declaration that the detainee works as a military intelligence agenta lie. The release of the detained journalist was requested by the Vice Chair of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada and the head of the Humanitarian Subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine’s side Irina Gerashchenko.

The Chairman of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, Andriy Parubiy, claims that the incident might lead to new sanctions against Russia and the cancelation of the visa-free regime. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also protested the arrest of the Ukrainian citizen and journalist, demanding that he should have an opportunity to see a consul and be released immediately. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman condemned the arrest of the citizen and journalist, and encouraged the international community to help in defending him.

R. Sushchenko is not the only Ukrainian citizen arrested in Russia on suspicion of espionage. In 2015, Ukrainian citizens Juriy Soloshenko and Valentin Vygovskiy were sentenced to, respectively, 6 and 11 years at a high security prison for analogous charges, and another Ukrainian citizen, Sergeiy Skirta was arrested in Yekaterinburg. The latter received “softer” charges – he was convicted of military espionage. After 11 months in prison he was granted amnesty in commemoration of the 70thanniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. A Russian citizen, Viktor Shur, was sentenced to 12 years at a high-security prison for spying for Ukraine.

Economic News

According to the National Bank of Ukraine, during the period between January and September, the country’s currency reserve grew by 16.5% and now amounts to 15.5 billion US dollars. In large part, the growth was caused by aid extended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

During a meeting with the students of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, President P. Poroshenko said that after refusing various gas supply and distribution schemes, and correcting tariffs, Ukraine now consumes 30% less gas than before. Therefore, the country is now close to emancipating itself from RF‘s energy dependency.

Military/Defence News

On September 26, President P. Poroshenko had signed the demobilisation ordnance regarding the 6thmobilization summons, which took place at the beginning of 2015.

Kyiv’s Evgeny Konovalcov’s Military School, established on April of this year, produced its first 24 sergeants. The school is headed by Giorgi Kuparashvili. Sergeants, who graduated from a 4-month training course, previously took part in 2-year long military actions in East Ukraine.

President P. Poroshenko issued a decree confirming the National Security and Defence Council’s decision to increase the funding of power structures this year. After the government proposal is submitted, the Verkhovna Rada should confirm the new bill regarding changes in this year’s budget, intended to increase defensive expenditure. That would result in Ministry of Defence receiving 3.8 billion hryvnia (roughly 130 million euros), the Chief Directorate of Intelligence receiving 175 million hryvnia (roughly 6 million euros), the National Police – 2 billion hryvnia (roughly 70 million euros), the State Border Guard Service – 783 million hryvnia (roughly 27 million euros), and other agencies – 55 million hryvnia (roughly 1.9 million euros). The same decree also specifies allocating another 300 million hryvnia (roughly 10.3 million euros) to the State Space Agency and a further 263 million hryvnia (roughly 9 million euros) to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, which will be used to further the focused state programmes undertaken by the military-industrial complex.

October 4 saw the commencement of autumn conscription in Ukraine. In total, 13,908 young people will be conscripted during the period between October and November. 7,908 of them will serve in the Armed Forces, 5,000 – in the National Guard, and the remaining 1,000 will be sent to the State Special Transport Service. According to previous announcements by the General Staff, none of the conscripts will be sent to the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone.

Ukraine’s Armed Forces will soon be supplied with locally produced intelligence equipment called Tenj (Shadow). This equipment allows for detecting both analogue and digital radio signal transmitters, working in the 30-3,000 MHz range, at a distance of 25 to 35 kilometres, and intercept and decode the transmitted data.

Talking on Channel 24, Minister of Defence Stepan Poltorak mentioned that Ukraine will request the US to supply only anti-aircraft and anti-vehicle weaponry, which is the most necessary for the country. Last month, the US Congress approved the possibility of supplying lethal weaponry to Ukraine.

S. Poltorak had visited Sweden, where he discussed bilateral relations and the situation in the region. It should be noted that this was the first time independent Ukraine’s Minister of Defence visited Sweden. On October 7, S. Poltorak left Sweden and went to Estonia. Apart from the scheduled meetings, the Minister also visited Ukrainian troops convalescing in Estonia. He noted that this year’s military actions in Eastern Ukraine had already taken the lives of 173 soldiers.

Situation in the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone

Breaches in truce during the period between September 26 and October 9 fluctuated between 22 and 68. During that period, four Ukrainian soldiers died and 28 were wounded.

The mandate of the OSCE monitoring mission at the Russian-Ukrainian border checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, was extended to February 31, 2017. Ukraine currently has no access to these checkpoints as they are controlled by separatist units. The OSCE monitoring mission at these checkpoints has been active since June 29, 2014.

On October 5, the Trilateral Contact Group, established for peaceful resolution of the conflict in Donbass, met in Minsk. The meeting concerned the failure to implement the agreement on pulling back forces from the isolation line, signed on September 21, and the establishment of three safety zones. An agreement was reached that the pulling back of forces from the three projected safety zones will take place: October 7 – in Petrovskaya, October 9 – in Stanica Luhanska. A safety zone in Zolotaya has already been established. Martin Sajdik, an OSCE representative in the Group, expects that documents regarding the establishment of new isolation zones to be signed soon. Seven new zones should be established before the end of the year, meaning there would be 10 in total.

The Trilateral Contact Group’s Humanitarian Subgroup had discussed the exchange of prisoners and reasons for justifying the “all-for-all” exchange process, which, according to separatist forces, would mean “618 for 47” (618 separatists are jailed in Ukraine, and 47 Ukrainian citizens are held by the separatists). Coming to an agreement essentially failed, because, according to Ukraine, the separatists currently hold about 100 of its citizens captive. Furthermore, the lists provided by the separatists contain individuals who are not involved in the conflict in Donbass (among the individuals appearing in the lists are people detained in Odessa and Kharkiv). For this reason, the list must be corrected.

The OSCE representative in the Humanitarian Subgroup, Toni Frish, will be allowed to meet with seven teenagers accused of carrying out diversions, who are being held captive by the separatists. Moreover, Ukrainian representatives also raised questions regarding the allegedly unlawful transportation of Ukrainian children from occupied territories to RF. Ukraine has a number of lists of these children and demands information regarding their fates. Ukrainian representatives also officially asked the RF representatives how many Donbass refugees are currently in RF and what is their current status.

The Trilateral Contac Group discussed issues regarding the rebuilding of infrastructure. It was conceded that solving these issues will require political will. M. Sajdik encouraged the countries to respond to the Red Cross’s request for rebuilding a demolished bridge near Stanica Luhanska, demine its premises and ensure free and safe movement of persons. The rebuilding of the bridge is also included in the agreement signed by both countries. It is hoped that the bridge will be rebuilt by mid-December.

The countries were also encouraged to keep up with the terms set for rebuilding electrical and water supply lines. It should be noted that the debt level for these services of individual districts of Luhansk now amount to 700,000 US dollars. The Red Cross pledged to cover the expenses for several months.

M. Sajdik noted that although the major humanitarian and economic problems aren’t yet being addressed, certain “signs of hope” can already be seen in the subgroups. The next meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group is scheduled to take place on October 26.

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