KYIV – Tensions between Ukrainian politician Mikheil Saakashvili and erstwhile ally Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko were further strained after the former Georgian leader called on the president to resign in an open letter he published on his Facebook page on December 19.
The U.S. special envoy for the Ukraine conflict has said 2017 was the deadliest year in the region since the outbreak of violence three years ago, and warned that hostilities are again ratcheting up. Kurt Volker’s comments on December 19 came as international monitors reported intense shelling overnight near the town of Novoluhanske, part of the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas. United Nations officials reported eight civilians injured and dozens of homes damaged, with winter temperatures complicating matters. “A lot of people think that this has somehow turned into a sleepy, frozen conflict and it’s stable and now we have… a ceasefire.
The U.S. State Department says it has approved an export license for Ukraine to buy certain types of light weapons and small arms from U.S. manufacturers. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on December 20 that Congress was notified of the decision on December 13. The license covers weapons in categories such as semiautomatic and automatic firearms up to .50 caliber weapons, combat shotguns, silencers, military scopes, flash suppressors and parts. It does not allow the sale of heavier weapons, such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, that Ukraine has urged Washington to provide in order to strengthen its capabilities against the Russia-backed separatists it is fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. An article in The Washington Post described the State Department decision as approval of “the largest U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.”
The State Department’s Ms. Nauert noted that, “Under the previous two administrations, the U.S. government has approved export licenses to Ukraine, so this is nothing new.” According to Reuters, State Department records show that Ukraine has bought small amounts of light weapons and small arms for several years, both before and after Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014.
A respected international investigative group says it has identified a senior Russian general as a figure of interest in the downing of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The Bellingcat investigative group – which uses sophisticated digital techniques to analyze open-source audio and visual data – issued a report on December 8 alleging that a man identified on intercepted communications as “Delfin” (Dolphin) is retired Russian Col. Gen. Nikolai Tkachyov, who is currently serving as the chief inspector of Russia’s Central Military District. The Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team (JIT), which investigated the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine and issued its findings in September 2016, previously published audio files of five intercepted communications between individuals identified by the pseudonyms Delfin and Orion. The JIT is seeking additional information about the men, though it remains unclear what possible role they may have played in the downing of the airliner.
The United Nations says daily ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine have led to more civilian deaths and “further aggravated a dire human rights and humanitarian situation” as temperatures drop. In a report published on December 12, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that increased fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists resulted in at least 15 deaths and 72 injuries among civilians from August 16 to November 15. In total, at least 2,818 civilians have been killed, and up to 9,000 others injured since the start of the conflict in April 2014. The death toll includes the 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 by a missile system that a Dutch-led investigation found had been brought into separatist-held territory from Russia and returned to Russia afterwards. The OCHCR recorded 10,303 conflict-related deaths between April 14, 2014, and November 15, 2017, the report said.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has shown itself to be incapable of enforcing its own resolutions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) annual ministerial conference, held on December 7-8, in Vienna, exposed yet again the 57-member international organization’s incapacity to hold its own against Russia. The latter used its veto power as a member to block any and all inconvenient draft declarations and resolutions during the Vienna conference or already in the run-up to it. The Russian veto pattern is a familiar one, but there have been some past cases when the OSCE’s chairmanship-in-office (the position rotates annually) would issue a Chair’s statement, which is veto-proof, for at least minimal redress to the organization’s reputation. At this Vienna ministerial, Russia vetoed references to Crimea and the war in Ukraine’s east – the most salient European security issue at this time – from the conference’s draft documents.
WASHINGTON – A top U.S. State Department official said the administration was committed to meeting a February deadline to specify new measures against Russia officials and influential businessmen for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election. The December 12 remarks by Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, come amid doubts that President Donald Trump will fulfill the sanctions that were backed by Congress in legislation passed earlier this year. After an October deadline was missed, Republican and Democratic senators pressed the Treasury Department and the White House to move forward on the measure. The next deadline is February 2, when the Treasury Department is supposed to release a list of Russian officials and Kremlin-connected business leaders to be targeted for restrictions. That could include limitations on financial transactions with banks, real estate brokerages and other institutions.
OTTAWA – On December 13, Canada added Ukraine to the Automatic Firearms Country Control List (AFCCL). The Department of Global Affairs stated that the inclusion of Ukraine in the AFFCCL “will enable Canadian companies and individuals to apply for a permit to export certain prohibited firearms, weapons and devices to Ukraine. Each permit application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure its consistency with Canada’s international obligations and foreign policy and defense priorities.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland stated, “I’m delighted to make this announcement today. The addition of Ukraine to the AFCCL reflects the close ties our countries share. Canada and Canadians will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine and support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) welcomed the addition of Ukraine to the AFCCL.
The U.S. special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, both warned this week that the situation in eastern Ukraine has significantly deteriorated. Their warnings came a week after the United Nations reported increased fighting in the Donbas between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed “separatists,” saying it has resulted in more civilians deaths and “further aggravated a dire human rights and humanitarian situation” as winter sets in. A total of 10,303 deaths related to the conflict have been recorded between April 14, 2014, and November 15, 2017. Ambassador Volker said on December 19 that 2017 has been the deadliest year since the conflict begun by Russian-backed militants started in April 2014. He added that the night of December 18 – when the village of Novoluhanske was attacked – “was one of the most violent nights, certainly since February, and possibly this year.” The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces reported that eight civilians were injured.
Seventy-five years ago, on December 30, 1942, widely known newspaper columnist and radio commentator Boake Carter had one of his columns appear in various newspapers throughout the United States. Mr. Carter noted:
“I have had drawn to my attention a matter which is of considerable importance when contemplating the European picture as a whole, the matter of Ukraine. “The average American, I would venture to say 99½ percent of all Americans consider Ukraine as a Russian province. The truth is quite the opposite. And it is worth noting a few facts about Ukraina (as the citizens of this territory prefer their land to be known and called), inasmuch as it is the bone of contention in this conflict between Germany and Russia…
“The language of Ukraina is not a Russian dialect.