Feb 21, 2021
Ukraine demands that Russia stop its aggression, respect international law and liberate the temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to a statement released by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of the beginning of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine. The ministry said that the illegal attempt to annex the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as the beginning of the armed conflict in Donbas were the stages in implementing Russia’s plan to destroy Ukrainian statehood. In addition, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has dramatically changed the geopolitical situation in Europe and around the world, and the authority of international law and the entire system of European and world security has been seriously undermined, Ukrainian diplomats said.
“We call on the international community to increase political and sanctions pressure on Russia to force the Russian authorities to de-occupy the occupied Ukrainian territories, release captives and political prisoners, and enforce international judgments. We are convinced that joint efforts, including within the Crimean Platform, will help not only restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine but also strengthen the authority of international law and return peace and stability to the European continent. The Russian Federation will bear full responsibility for all crimes committed against Ukraine and its citizens,” the statement reads.
Progress on the settlement of the armed conflict in Donbas is virtually impossible due to Russia’s position, and this situation is unlikely to change in the near future, according to Leonid Kravchuk, the head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group. He said this in his speech at the All-Ukrainian Forum “Ukraine 30”. “We can state that it’s almost impossible to agree with the Russian Federation on the settlement of the situation in Donbas in the status in which they see themselves and what tasks they set. That is, we must face this reality. We should not think that anything may change in the near future,” Kravchuk said. He noted that the situation in Donbas was getting worse, and “this cannot be ignored.” Russia “has appropriated the title of a mediator, saying that it is not a party to the conflict and it generally does not understand its role in this issue,” Kravchuk said. He also said that he had taken part in a programme on Russia’s Channel One, during which the leader of the so-called DPR, Denis Pushilin, openly stated his intention to gradually integrate the occupied territories into Russia.
“Officially, on a Russian TV channel in Moscow, the leader stated his real goals. We already knew that before, but this is already an official statement. We hold meetings in the Trilateral Contact Group and set tasks on how to transform these uncontrolled regions into Ukraine, how to form local government, etc., whereas their tasks are completely different,” Kravchuk said.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Ukraine must show more progress on reforms to reach an agreement for a new tranche under a $5 billion programme with the international lender. The statement by the IMF representative in Kyiv on February 13 came after the fund’s mission held talks with Ukraine. “Discussions will continue,” Goesta Ljungman said in a statement, adding that the talks were productive. “The talks centered on strengthening governance of the National Bank, improvements to the legislative and regulatory framework for bank supervision and resolution, policies to reduce the medium-term fiscal deficit, legislation restoring and strengthening the anti-corruption framework and the judiciary, as well as on energy policy,” Ljungman said. Ukraine expects to receive $2.2 billion in three equal tranches from the IMF in 2021, National Bank Governor Kyrylo Shevchenko told Reuters. The IMF in June approved the $5 billion loan program and disbursed the first tranche of $2.1 billion to help the pandemic-hit Ukrainian economy. However, further loans have been put on hold due to the slow pace of reforms in Ukraine. The IMF also voiced concern over the government’s decision last month to regulate household gas prices.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum met on February 15, the president’s press service reports. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska were on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates on February 14-15.
During the meeting, the parties outlined the priority areas of cooperation between Ukraine and the UAE, discussed ways to deepen bilateral cooperation in trade, as well as the economic, investment, and scientific and technical sectors. Volodymyr Zelensky paid special attention to infrastructure development and called on the UAE to invest in this sector in Ukraine. The parties also focused on combating the effects of the COVID-19 spread and the impact of quarantine measures on the economies of the countries. President Zelensky stressed that the increased attention of the leadership of Ukraine and the UAE to the priority areas of bilateral cooperation testifies to the existence of political will to further develop and deepen constructive, mutually beneficial cooperation in the interests of Ukrainian and Emirati peoples. In turn, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum noted that the UAE considers Ukraine as a reliable partner and the relations of the two countries are developing on the principles of trust and mutual respect. He noted the Ukrainian president’s visit to Expo 2020 and stressed that Ukraine is an important partner of the UAE in ensuring food security.
Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko says the recently sanctioned Ukrainian TV channels owned by MP Taras Kozak, who is believed to be an ally of Vladimir Putin’s crony Viktor Medvedchuk, were indirectly financed from Russia. Speaking in an interview for the Ukrainian media outlet LB.ua, Tkachenko said he had seen the documents while working with the parliament’s ad hoc commission on those TV channels.
“I was interested in the very fact of their acquisition since it is a long and controversial story. I have every reason to speak about indirect financing from Russia at least at the stage when the TV channels were acquired,” he said. Tkachenko added it had taken more
than two months to discuss what to do with the “Kremlin’s propaganda machine,” and there had to be the political will to address it. The minister also stressed that Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) had imposed the sanctions based on law enforcement officers’ conclusions. “They are not directly disclosed as they are part of the investigation. But the fact that NSDC members have access to this information, referring to what they say and what the president says, we may conclude there is enough of such evidence,” he said.
The Kyiv Post reported, “Since the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) was launched in 2016, attempts to fire its head Artem Sytnyk or eliminate its independence have been constant. The latest one came on Feb. 15, when the Cabinet of Ministers submitted a bill seeking to fire Sytnyk before his term expires in 2022 and introduce a procedure that allows President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to control the selection of a new NABU chief. The President’s Office did not respond to requests for comment. Almost all of the previous efforts to fire Sytnyk or restrict the NABU were a backlash by Ukraine’s corrupt establishment against cases by the bureau against top corrupt officials and oligarchs. “The Cabinet bill on the NABU is a step towards destroying the institution,” the NABU said in a statement on Feb. 18, adding that it was an effort to eliminate its independence. The current effort was a reaction to the NABU’s high profile corruption cases into Zelenskyy’s deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov’s embezzlement during COVID-19 vaccine purchases, according to sources familiar with the situation. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. The Cabinet claims that its bill aims to bring the NABU in line with Constitutional Court rulings as part of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, the legislation may in fact further disrupt IMF lending since the NABU’s independence is a crucial condition of the fund’s memorandums with Ukraine.
The IMF mission concluded on Feb. 13 that Ukraine needs to show more progress before it can receive another $700 million tranche in the existing stand-by lending arrangement.
This includes reforming the High Council of Justice, the judiciary’s highest governing body, and getting rid of its controversial members. Zelenskyy submitted a bill on the High Council of Justice on Feb. 12. However, judicial and anti-corruption watchdogs argue that the bill would not clean up the council to the IMF’s standards and may further disrupt Western lending. The IMF declined to comment.”
NATO says it is delivering over 9,000 Lts of surface disinfectant to Ukraine in response to Kyiv’s request for international assistance to combat COVID-19. Ukraine started receiving the first delivery on February 17, the alliance said in a statement, adding that the donation was coordinated by NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre and Latvia.
The statement said the surface disinfectant, produced by a Latvian company, is to be distributed to “the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine and its border guard detachments at border crossing points” across the Eastern European country. NATO said it will also send mobile X-ray units, negative pressure chambers, bio protection coveralls, and portable oxygen generators to Ukraine in the “coming weeks.” Ukraine has recorded more than 1.3 million coronavirus cases and over 26,000 deaths. The country of 40 million has yet to launch its vaccination campaign.
It is waiting for the delivery of 20 million vaccine doses from India’s Serum Institute and the global COVAX scheme, as well as vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Novavах.
The Ukrainian Red Cross Society, the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Volunteer Affairs, and the NGO Safe Educational Space signed a memorandum of cooperation to develop youth programmes and promote the culture of volunteering among young people in Ukraine.
In particular, the memorandum includes cooperation involving the development of educational communities through the expansion of volunteering, development and implementation of youth, humanitarian and other social projects, as well as the creation of quality modern educational and training programmes. “For many years, the Ukrainian Red Cross has been implementing projects aimed at supporting young people, as volunteering and youth initiatives are an integral part of the organization’s work. Having united forces with such partners as the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for Volunteer Affairs and the NGO Safe Educational Space, we will be able to expand prospects and attract an even more interested active youth,” said Maksym Dotsenko, Director General of the National Committee of the Ukrainian Red Cross Society.
According to the participants of the event, the signing of the memorandum between the Red Cross, the Presidential Commissioner and the NGO should give impetus to the systematic and comprehensive development of a volunteering culture, and provide young people with knowledge and tools to ensure security and social assistance, which will help build a safe environment in every part of the state.
The UK’s training mission to Ukraine, Operation ORBITAL, has proposed that Ukrainian sailors train on Royal Navy ships, the Ukrainian Navy’s press service has reported on Facebook.
“In Odesa, during a coordination meeting between representatives of the Ukrainian Navy and the headquarters of the ORBITAL mission, members of the ORBITAL mission put forward the proposal to conduct the training of boat crews and inspection teams of the national fleet on Royal Navy ships this year,” the report reads. The parties discussed the expansion of training, instruction and mentoring for instructors of the 198th Navy Training Centre, Diver School, Marine School and the training of the flight crew of the Marine Aviation Brigade as part of the UK’s military training mission to Ukraine. Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are due to join the UK’s training mission in 2021. Operation ORBITAL was established in 2015 following Russia’s occupation of Crimea and in a demonstration of the UK’s unwavering support to Ukraine.
This year the Ukrainian Armed Forces plan to take part in 22 multinational exercises, including eight exercises in Ukraine and 14 exercises abroad. The Ukrainian Defence
Ministry is working with partners to improve the skills of Ukrainian servicemen in such military training missions as JMTG-U (Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine), ORBITAL (the UK’s training mission to Ukraine), UNIFIER (the Canadian Armed Forces’ training mission) and LMTG-U (the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ training mission).
The Turkish Foreign Ministry is concerned about February 17 detentions in Crimea and says Turkey will continue to support the Crimean Tatars, according to a statement released by the ministry. “We are concerned about the raids and detentions that took place in Crimea yesterday (February 17th). We call for ending such practices against the Crimean Tatars, who are an integral part of the Crimean Peninsula,” the statement said. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also said the country’s position on Russia’s occupation of the peninsula remained unchanged.
“Turkey doesn’t recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and will continue to stand by the Crimean Tatars,” the statement reads. On February 17, mass searches took place in Bilohirsk, Bakhchisaray, Simferopol, Sevastopol and the Sovetskyi district in the temporarily occupied Crimea. FSB investigators told relatives that the detainees were charged under Article 205.5 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (creation of a terrorist organization and participation in the activities of such an organization).
Due to the temporary occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Ukraine has lost the opportunity to explore the Scythian section of the Black Sea shelf, where gas production was to begin in 2017. “Shortly before the occupation, agreements were signed in the United States on the distribution of products, on the exploration of the Scythian section of the Black Sea shelf, which is located near the Crimean Peninsula, outside the city of Sevastopol. This project could have started in 2017 and Ukraine would have increased its own natural gas production,” Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Anton Korynevych said at the All-Ukrainian Forum “Ukraine 30”. He stressed that, according to various data, out of all the natural gas available in Ukraine, about half of its deposits are on the continental shelf of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Due to the occupation, Ukraine cannot explore these resources, which has a negative impact on the energy security of both our country and Europe as a whole, the official stated.
The President’s representative reminded that after the occupation, Russia stole Chornomornaftogaz from Ukraine, a state-owned company owned by Naftogaz of Ukraine, which includes a coastal production base for offshore works, a technological fleet, 10 offshore gas production platforms, 4 self-elevating drilling rigs, a gas transmission system of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the Hlibovka underground gas storage, and much more. In addition to oil and gas equipment, Russia seized solar and wind power plants, which were among the most powerful in Europe and the world and provided up to 30% of Crimea’s electricity generation, he added. Currently, Ukraine is filing lawsuits at various international courts.
“In particular, we filed a lawsuit against Russia under the investment protection agreement at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, a lawsuit of Naftogaz against Gazprom at the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, and others. We know that certain judgments have already been delivered, and Gazprom must pay Naftogaz $2.5 billion. Other hearings are underway,” Korynevych said. The Prosecutor General’s Office estimated the damages and losses from Russia’s temporary occupation of Crimea are UAH 1 trillion. Russia started the armed aggression against Ukraine on February 20, 2014 by seizing part of Ukraine’s territory – the Crimean Peninsula. On March 16, 2014, the so-called “referendum on the status of Crimea” was held on the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol. In two days, on March 18, 2014, the so-called agreement on the accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation was signed at the Kremlin. Most UN member states and other international organizations declared the Crimean referendum, falsified by the occupiers, illegitimate.
Some 616,835 people died in Ukraine in 2020, which was the highest figure in the past five years. The excess mortality was estimated at 35,000 people, compared with the previous three years, according to OpenDataBot, a business data registration monitoring service. “The highest mortality rate over the past three years was recorded in December 2020, namely 67,000 people died. The previous record was set in November of the same year, or 63,000 deaths,” it said. According to the data, cardiovascular diseases (this group includes heart attacks and strokes), cancer and accidents remain top causes of deaths in Ukraine. Also, 18,500 people died in 2020 from the coronavirus or its consequences.
The U.S. State Department is preparing new sanctions against the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. “A key report to Congress that was due last Tuesday could be out as soon as Friday, and it’s expected to list only a small number of Russia-linked entities,” Bloomberg wrote on February 19, referring to its sources.
“The U.S. is likely to hold off sanctioning any German entities for now over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Biden administration seeks to halt the project without antagonizing a close European ally,” it added.
From January 21 through February 14, Russian and proxy forces killed 13 Ukrainian soldiers and wounded at least another 19 along the frontline in Ukraine’s Donbas. Most of these casualties were inflicted by snipers, some of whom were apparently deployed from Russia’s interior for a stint of combat training in Donbas (Radio Free Europe, February 3; Ukrinform, February 12, 17). Sniper fire killed two Ukrainian soldiers on February 11, the day when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took the G-7 countries’ Kyiv ambassadors on a visit to the frontline (Ukrinform, February 11). The enemy command had, apparently, been aware of the scheduled visit and decided to make this demonstrative gesture, albeit not in the visited sector.
The Ukrainian forces do not seem to have retaliated against these attacks. The high command and frontline troops are under orders from the Presidential Office to refrain from responding to provocations, lest the other side escalates and inflicts more casualties. This deliberate restraint is wrapped in official announcements that Ukrainian troops “responded adequately” after each attack when they took casualties.
Russia has chosen to conduct its protracted war in Ukraine’s east in the form of low-intensity positional warfare, punctuated by spikes of relatively higher intensity. Russia calibrates these spikes to keep them below the level of a dramatic escalation; that would not bring Russia any closer to relief from Western economic sanctions and would, moreover, provoke a Ukrainian patriotic backlash. Moscow, therefore, does not go beyond static positional warfare during these phases of intensified operations; it refrains from using heavy weaponry as part of positional warfare; it does not attempt to gain additional territory; and it limits these phases to a few days at a time, during which it inflicts casualties on Ukrainian troops.
These tactics are calculated to exploit President Zelenskyy’s nervousness in the face of casualties and his political investment in showing that the armistice works effectively. The Kremlin aims to pressure Kyiv into concessions on the terms of conflict resolution in the Normandy and Minsk processes. Russia’s intermittent shoot-to-kill phases tend to be correlated with critical phases in the negotiations within the Minsk Contact Group.
The Minsk Contact Group held its fortnightly session by videoconference on February 16–17. Kyiv defended its positions successfully on substance but less so on procedure.
Moscow unleashed the Dontesk and Luhansk delegations to address Kyiv’s delegation directly, so as to create the appearance of direct negotiations between Ukraine and Donetsk-Luhansk. In the compartment on security affairs, the Donetsk-Luhansk tandem presented demands that Moscow merely “supported,” ostensibly as a “mediator” (TASS, February 16, 17), although Moscow had undoubtedly authored these demands in the first place. The main issue currently at stake is the operation of the Coordinating Mechanism for Ceasefire Observation and Verification, which is supposed to implement the Additional Measures to Strengthen the Ceasefire Regime (Ukrinform, Donetskoye Agentstvo Novostey, Lugansk Infotsentr, February 16, 17).
Both that “mechanism” and those “measures” had been agreed upon by Kyiv and Donetsk- Luhansk within the Contact Group in July 2020. That agreement had lifted the Donetsk-Luhansk forces to the same level as the Ukrainian military in implementing those “measures” through that “mechanism.” The mechanism was to ascertain and report ceasefire violations and to coordinate joint responses to them by the Ukrainian military and the Donetsk-Luhansk forces.
The two “sides” would also conduct joint inspections of their respective positions. The “mechanism’s” centerpiece was to be the “Joint Center for Control and Coordination,” a formerly Ukrainian-Russian body in which Russia had yielded its place to Donetsk-Luhansk, so as to compel Kyiv to deal with them directly within that center. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also had its decorative role to play in those arrangements. Those arrangements had represented a major success for Moscow and its proxies. They had cast Kyiv and Donetsk-Luhansk as parties to the negotiation and equal participants in the resulting agreement. They practically legitimized the unlawful Donetsk-Luhansk forces.
Russia was not mentioned as a party, being exempted of any responsibility for ceasefire violations and, indeed, for the conflict as such.
President Zelenskyy and his advisor Andriy Yermak retreated from basic Ukrainian negotiating positions by agreeing to such terms at that time (see EDM, July 29, 30, August 6, 2020). Yet Kyiv backtracked on those concessions in September 2020, when Moscow’s proxy forces attempted to turn a “joint inspection” with Ukrainian forces in Shumy into a media-political spectacle. That would have deeply embarrassed Kyiv and could have triggered a political backlash there. The “mechanism” and the “joint centre” have remained dormant since, although the “additional measures” remain valid (but did not prevent the recent attacks on Ukrainian positions—see above). The Minsk Contact Group’s February 16–17 session discussed reviving that “mechanism” and the “joint center” at Donetsk-Luhansk’s insistence. They proposed some new modalities for direct, regular exchanges of information, reporting and responding to violations, and joint verification measures. The military-political implications to Kyiv’s detriment and Moscow’s advantage would, however, be the same as in 2020. The Ukrainian delegation currently rejects another such experiment in the Minsk process.
Russia looks set to continue its low-intensity positional war, with periodic spikes designed to inflict Ukrainian casualties and extract political concessions. Moscow’s declared, short-term goals focus on: starting negotiations or direct interactions between Kyiv and Donetsk-Luhansk, introducing the Steinmeier Formula into Ukrainian legislation, and opening the way to “elections” in the Russian- controlled and militarized territory. Kyiv is holding firm at this time and must, therefore, brace for one or more spikes of intensified trench warfare in the spring and summer.