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The Ukrainian front lines
 
  Overview of Events in Ukraine during 7-20 November, 2016

Algirdas Karijotas
2016 12 19

These two weeks have been very eventful. The International Criminal Court equating the annexation of Crimea to an international military conflict, and the Human Rights Committee under the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopting a resolution regarding human rights in Crimea, which refers to Russia as an occupying power and Crimea – a temporarily occupied territory, are bound to have profound geopolitical consequences.

There has been no shortage of resonant events in Ukraine either, which include the exposition of Russia’s destabilisation plan, code-named Shatun; new arrests of Ukrainian saboteurs in Crimea; and Mikheil Saakashvili’s resignation as head of the Odessa regional administration, claiming that President Poroshenko is involved in covering-up corruption.

Foreign Policy

On 8 November, President Petro Poroshenko had visited Slovenia where he met with President Borut Pahor, Prime Minister Miro Cerar, Speaker of the National Assembly Milan Brglez and heads of the largest Slovenian companies operating in the Ukrainian market. On 14 November, P. Poroshenko visited Sweden, where he held official meetings with the country’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Speaker of the Riksdag Urban Ahlin and leader of the opposition’s Moderate Party Anna Kinberg Batra. 

A report issued by the International Criminal Court on 14 November states that at the beginning of 2014 Russia hadcarried out an annexation of Crimea, which began with its deployment of troops in the peninsula and theblocking of Ukraine’s infrastructure and military objects, which equates to an international military conflict.

On 15 November, members of the UN’sHuman Rights Committee had adopted the Ukraine-initiated resolution regarding human rights violations in Crimea, with 73 voting for the resolution, 23 votingagainst and 76 abstaining. This is the first official UN document which refers to Russia as an occupying power and Crimea – a temporarily occupied territory. The resolution recognises Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and Russia is urged to provide conditions necessary for representatives of international human rights organisations to reach Crimea.

On 15 November, P. Poroshenko had talked on the phone with the US President-elect Donald Trump. After congratulating him on the victory, P. Poroshenko had assured him of Ukraine’s readiness for continued active cooperation in the spirit of strategic partnership.

Domestic Policy

On 7 November, Mikheil Saakashvili had announced his resignation as head of the Odessa regional administration in frustration of President P. Poroshenko backing corrupt officials. M.Saakashviliclaims he has no plans to leave politics and will continue fighting as a Ukrainian citizen. In the past, M.Saakashvili was dissuaded from resigning by the President himself.M. Saakashvili’s request for resignation was approved by the government a few days after submission, and signed by the President the next day. The President also discharged M. Saakashvili as his freelance advisor. A few weeks later, M. Saakashvili had announced the inception of a new political movement, called the Movement of New Forces, and said its first meeting has been scheduled for 27 November.

Khatia Dekanoidze, Chief of Ukrainian National Police for a year, had also announced her resignation. The submission of the request has been confirmed by the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov.

Leader of the Bativshchyna Party Yulia Tymoshenko had announced her unmasking of the machinations of President P. Poroshenko’s business partners with the assets of liquidated banks. The general sum of the machinations is said to be 350 million hryvnia. This had caused her to become a target of state information networks who had called her, among other things, a Moscow cuckoo. Y. Tymoshenko claims she had come across such information while working with depositors of deceived banks. According to her, although 68 of the 83 closed banks had around 448 million hryvnia in completely liquid assets, the business partners of P. Poroshenko in charge of the Deposit Guarantee Fund evaluated them at only 99 million hryvnia.

The Kiev International Institute of Sociology had carried out a routine public survey, showing that 46 percent of respondents support the country’s integration into the European Union (EU), 13 percent support joining the Customs Union (CU), and 30 percent oppose both and think that Ukraine shouldn’t join either.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) had banned 140 Russian cultural players from entering the country, claiming their speech is hostile to Ukraine’s national interests.

The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) had announced its arrest of a terrorist “sabotage group” of the Head Department of Investigation under Ukraine’s Defence Ministry, which took place in Sevastopol on 9 November. In a statement, the FSB had claimed the three arrested saboteurs are Ukrainian citizens and spies for the HDI, all of whom confessed of their diversionary activities. Allegedly, the group had planned a number of attacks on military and other important infrastructure in Crimea. During the arrest, the group was supposedly found to possess high-power explosives, weapons, ammunition, communications equipment and maps containing outlines of the planned diversions. The names of the detainees were soon announced as well: Dmitry Shtyblikov, who worked as an analyst at the Centre for Assistance to the Geopolitical Problems and Euro-Atlantic Cooperation of the Black Sea Region Studies “Nomos” until 2014, Alexei Besarabov and Vladimir Dudko.

The Defence Ministry of Ukraine and the HDI had called the FSB’s statement regarding the routine arrest of Ukraine’s “saboteurs” a “fabrication”, the purpose of which is to justify their own repressions against the people of Crimea and discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the international community. It should be noted that the FSB had announced the arrest of an HDI sabotage group which was planning attacks in Crimea. It was claimed that during 7-8 November a sabotage group attempted to reach Crimea from Ukraine, with the ensuing skirmish with Russian border guards resulting in the death of one Russian soldier and one employee of the FSB.

Before that information could be fully processed, the Russian media published new announcements, claiming that on 15 November there was another arrest of an armed Ukrainian citizen who was thought to be an HDI employee. This time, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence called this event innovative and deceptive, because no Ukrainian soldier or officer was in fact arrested. On the other hand, it should be noted that Crimea is still home to thousands of retired soldiers who served both in the Soviet and Ukrainian armies at different points in their career, and this could serve as basis for speculations regarding their status as Ukrainian saboteurs.

A week after the announcement, new details came to light: apparently, two saboteurs were actually arrested: Alexei Stogny who introduced himself as a colonel of the 13thdivision of the HDI’s 1st Department, and Gleb Shably who claimed he was a second-rank captain in the same department’s 13thdivision. A story broadcast during a show of the journalist Dmitry Kiselyov on the Russian TV channel Rossiya 1 supposedly unmasked an entire network of Ukrainian spies in Crimea, who’ve been collecting intelligence on Russia’s Black Sea navy base even well before the Maidan events. The Russian FSB claimed the detainees admitted to their criminal activities and their links to the other three spies arrested on 9 November.

Anatoliy Dublik, Head of the National Statehood Protection Department of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) had published a joint statement with the Foreign Intelligence Service regarding Russia’s planned destabilising actions in Ukraine. The statement informs that hostile forces are planning to destabilise the situation in the country with the purpose of forcingan early election and consolidating pro-Russian powers in the new parliament, resulting in the revision of the country’s European heading and foreign policy vector. This move, allegedly planned by Russia, is code-named Shatun (a species of bear).

On 15 November, probably due to the above mentioned information, the police forces of Kiev had been waiting for mass protests regarding the unreturned bank deposits and increased municipal taxes. Even though the Petro Poroshenko Blocurged people not to participate in the event, claiming it was organised by hostile forces – the “fifth column”, the Opposition Blocand the new Baktivshchyna Party –and that the participants were paid off in advance, it was still expected that the event will be attended by 5,000 – 50,000 people.However, according to the police, the protest was attended by roughly 6,000 people who caused no disturbances.

The party Opposition Bloc made an announcement claiming it will give a rebuttal to the “war coalition” (political forces currently in power) and will pursue an early election to the Verkhovna Rada.The Opposition Bloc, which currently holds the third place in ratings, is accusing the government of destroying the economy and deceiving people whose patience is waning. The Opposition Bloc demands the revocation of the increased municipal tax tariffs, setting the minimum wage at 4,500 hryvnia, compensating the depositors of the 82 bankrupt banks, prohibiting the selling of land to foreigners, freezing the prices of socially beneficial goods, passing laws supporting national manufacturers, implementing decentralisation, ceasing military actions in the eastern part of the country, etc.

Furthermore, the Opposition Bloc claims it plans to collect facts on the past and current repressions implemented by the government. According to the party, since the January of 2014, political persecution and repressions implemented by the government affected 50,000 people, 100 of whom were incarcerated in accordance with criminal law, and 59 people died.

Economic News

Head of the National Bank of Ukraine Valeriya Gontaryeva had warned that delays on the part of the Verkhovna Rada to pass laws necessary for implementing reforms (budget balancing, pension and agriculture) could result in problems with receiving the fourth part of the 1.3 million US dollar payment by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), scheduled to arrive before the end of the year.

In a regular statement presented in Washington, IMF representative Gerry Rice said the fund welcomes the implementation of electronic declaration in Ukraine, and emphasised the necessity of taking decisive actions in the fight against corruption. Once these actions are implemented, the IMF will continue to support the Ukrainian government structures.

The international ratings agency Fitch Ratings had upgraded Ukraine’s senior unsecured local-currency debt rating from CCC to B-. The rating forecast is “stable”.

President P. Poroshenko had signed a law on the approval of the free-trade zone agreement with Canada, which had ended the ratification of the Agreement signed July of this year.

Head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic Alexander Zakharchenko announced that his “republic” had renewed the supply of coal to Ukraine.

Military/Defence News

Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada and member of the Petro Poroshenko Blocand the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine Irina Friz had announced that next year the funding of the Special Forces of Ukraine (SOP) will be increased five-fold. Moreover, commanders of SOP divisions will be able to make acquisitions at their own discretion.

The international Maple Arch 2016 military exercise, attended by troops from Poland, Lithuania and Canada in addition to Ukrainian soldiers, kicked off in the Yavoriv Polygon on 7 November and will last for two weeks.

Ukraine was visited by a Canadian military delegation headed by the leader of ground forces General Lieutenant Paul Wynnyk. The guests visited the International Peacekeeping Centre in Yavoriv and met with Canadian instructors responsible for training Ukrainian troops. They had also visited the National Academy of the Army Ground Forces.

The ranking of countries by military strength, developed by the independent international blogGlobal Firepowerput Ukraine down at number 30 (Sweden is number 29 and Mexico – number 31; by the way, this ranking of 126 countries has Lithuania at number 97, Latvia – number 103, and Estonia – number 109).

Discussing the results of this year’s tasks in an official meeting, the Chief of the General Staff and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko had said the most important task of the armed forces today is the coordination of strategic and tactical capacities. The meeting also concerned the necessity of improving the command system, the transition to the J-structure, complementing the military division personnel and equipment, and the improvement of means and forms of deploying force.

Situation in the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone

Breaches of truce between 7 and 20 November fluctuated between 15 and 64. During that period, five Ukrainian soldiers died and 37 were wounded.

On 8 November, the Trilateral Contact group, established for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Donbass, met in Minsk to discuss the issues pertaining to security and the observance of truce. The Group discussed the failed pull back of forces from predetermined sections. The main obstacle to the pulling back of forces from Luhansk is still the unremitting breaches of truce. Many political issues were also considered, including the implementation of the mechanisms of the Steinmeier Formula. This political discourse was focused on the modality of the upcoming elections – particularly the forms of implementation and other details, rather than the essence. There was also an announcement that a group action plan modelled after the Normandy Format should arrive in the near future.

Four subgroups of the Contact Group held meetings on specific topics. After changes in personnel, the Humanitarian and Economic subgroups resumed their activities at full capacity. This subgroup, in tandem with representatives of the OSCE and the International Red Cross, discussed the question of rebuilding the bridge near Luhansk and expressed the conviction that the Zolotoiy border checkpoint should be open by 23 November. The Humanitarian Subgroup also discussed the question of hostage exchange. Ukraine had again demanded the separatist representatives to provide a full, comprehensive list of hostages. There were also discussions about the previously discussed hostage exchange option “618 for 47” as well as the exchange of individual hostages.

About 400 convicted individuals sentenced to prison in Donbass would like to serve the remainder of their sentences in Ukraine. It should be noted that over 130 prisoners had already been transferred to Ukraine.

Speaking at the US Congress, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he thinks that Russia and Ukraine will continue their confrontation over influence in Donbass and the region, and that he sees no prospects for implementing the agreements of the Minsk Group.

The US Ambassador for the OSCE Daniel Baer hadnoted the official OSCE monitoring data from the Russian-Ukrainian border checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk. It should be noted that OSCE monitorsworking at these two checkpoints have extremely limited possibilities for real control because of a three and a half hour round-trip from Rostov. Monitoring is only possible during daylight after coordination with Russian and separatist representatives. Since Ukrainian authorities have no control over this part of the border (stretching over 100 km) where these checkpoints are located, no one can check the individuals and vehicles that pass them. The time-limited monitoring sessions cover only one-tenth of the potential entry/exit territory. According to the Ambassador, if the mission, limited as it is, had managed to identify around 30,000 uniformed individuals passing the Russian-Ukrainian border, the real number of such persons could be much larger.


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