Assessing the Failure of Minsk II in Ukraine and the Success of the 2008 Ceasefire in Georgia

Sarah Martin is a recent graduate of George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, where she wrote her thesis on Chechen foreign fighters in Syria.  She was previously a fellow at NatSecGirlSquad, supporting the organization’s debut conference on November 15, 2018.  She can be found on Twitter @amerikitkatoreo. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title: Assessing the Failure of Minsk II in Ukraine and the “Success” of the 2008 Ceasefire in Georgia

Date Originally Written:  December 16, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  January 21, 2019.

Summary:  In 2019 the Donbass War in Ukraine will enter its fifth year. Over 10,000 people have been killed, 3,000 of them civilians, and one million displaced. Two ceasefire agreements between Moscow and Kyiv have failed, and no new agreements are forthcoming. When compared to the agreement of the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia, ending the stalemate in Ukraine and determining a victor might be the key to brokering a lasting ceasefire.

Text:  It is easy to find comparisons between the ongoing Donbass War in Ukraine and the 2008 August War between Russia and Georgia. However, despite their similarities, one ended swiftly, in less than a month, while the other continues without even the slightest hint of deescalation in the near future. This paper seeks to assess the endpoints of these conflicts in order to begin a conversation exploring why the conflict in Georgia ended, and why the conflict in Ukraine continues.

The ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia did not necessarily bring about the end of hostilities, especially at first. Indeed, even into 2018, Russia has been in violation of this agreement in a number of ways, including inching the South Ossetian border fence deeper into Georgia[1]. However, major operations between Moscow and Tbilisi have ceased, while they have not in Ukraine.

The current conflict in Ukraine involves two main players: the central government of Kyiv, and factions under the self-ascribed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). The DPR and LPR are heavily supported by Moscow by way of private mercenary forces such as the Wagner Group[2] and regular soldiers and weapons [3]. Kyiv is supported by the United State (U.S.), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). This support is mostly political with some weapons sales and training, though the U.S. has recently begun to sell lethal weapons[4].

Kyiv seeks to maintain internal state integrity and political independence from Russia[5]. The DPR and LPR are keen not to be independent states, but to be united with the Russian Federation, as they see themselves as an ethnolinguistic minority with closer ties to Russia than their Ukrainian-speaking counterparts[6]. Other stakeholders have their own objectives. Western partners wish to maintain international order and to guarantee Ukraine’s national right to self-determination. Russia has always struggled with the concept of an independent Ukraine and is wary of any attempts of “democratic reform,” which it sees as a Western plot pursuing regime change within the Kremlin[7].

There have been two major attempts to bring this conflict to an end: the September 2014 Minsk Protocol and February 2015 Minsk II. In 2015, DPR representatives openly considered the possibility of reintegration with Kyiv[8]. Current Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, ran on a platform of ending the conflict and achieving peace[9]. There was, at one time, at least some political will to see the violence stop. But the Minsk Protocol fell apart practically overnight, and despite early hopes, Minsk II did not stand much longer[10].

The August War in 2008 between Georgia and Russia was equally complex. The war broke out that summer as the endpoint of a series of escalating tensions between Tbilisi, South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region, Abkhazia, and Moscow. Although the European Council’s fact-finding mission pointed to Georgia as the actor responsible for the start of the war by firing heavy artillery into Tskhinvali, the region’s main town, the report noted Georgia’s actions came in response to pressure and provocation from Moscow[11].

The primary actors in the August War were the Georgian government in Tbilisi and rebellious factions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are two ethnic minority regions of Georgia and have sought independence from Tbilisi since the 1990s. Other stakeholders were Russia, the U.S., and the broader Western alliance. Russia acted unilaterally in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, overtly using their fleets and their soldiers, claiming to be defending peacekeepers and South Ossetians who were, as they claimed, Russian citizens[12].

In the months leading up to the outbreak of violence, Georgia sought EU and NATO membership, and Russia found such steps away from their influence unacceptable[13]. The U.S. and its Western allies supported Georgia’s desires to varying degrees; most agreed that the integration ought to happen, though when exactly it should, was left to some innocuous “future” date[14].

Moscow responded to the situation in Georgia with overwhelming force and had the city of Tbilisi in their sights within days. Having positioned themselves on the border during their quadrennial Kavkaz (Caucasus) military exercises and having a much more sophisticated army and modern weapons, Moscow was ready for combat. Georgia scrambled, underestimating Moscow’s interest in South Ossetia and overestimating Western willingness to intervene[15].

There are many similarities between the 2008 August War in Georgia and the ongoing Donbass War in Ukraine. However, what is strikingly different, and perhaps the most important element, is the swiftness and assuredness by which the conflict came to an end. There was a clear winner. When Nicolas Sarkozy, then acting president of the European Commission, and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to the terms which officially brought the August War to an end, Medvedev said, “the aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses[16].”

While both Ukraine and Russia have much to gain by keeping the conflict ongoing, Ukraine—on its own—does not have the capability to bring the war to an end[17]. Ending the Donbass War is squarely in Moscow’s court, so long as Kyiv bears the brunt of its own defense. Moscow is, after all, in charge of the separatists driving the conflict[18]. The failure of both Minsk agreements is an example of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. To both Kyiv and Moscow, the end of this conflict is positioned as a lose / lose situation. Compromise is not an option, but on a long enough timeline, something has to give.

An end of the violence will not be the end of the conflict in the Donbass, as noted in the case of Russo-Georgian relations. However, a cessation of shelling and the laying of mines means that people can return home and the dead can be properly mourned. A ceasefire is not the final step, but the first one. The road to peace in the Donbass is a long and winding journey, but it cannot and will not begin without that first step.


Endnotes:

[1] Oliphant, R. (2015, July 16). EU condemns Russia over ‘creeping annexation’ of Georgia. The Telegraph. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/11745510/EU-condemns-Russia-over-creeping-annexation-of-Georgia.html

[2] Sukhankin, S. (2018, July 13). ‘Continuing War by Other Means’: The Case of Wagner, Russia’s Premier Private Military Company in the Middle East. The Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://jamestown.org/program/continuing-war-by-other-means-the-case-of-wagner-russias-premier-private-military-company-in-the-middle-east/

[3] RFE/RL. Kyiv Says 42,500 Rebels, Russian Soldiers Stationed In East Ukraine. (2015, June 8). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russian-troops-fighting-poltorak/27059578.html

[4] Borger, J. (2018, September 01). US ready to boost arms supplies to Ukraine naval and air forces, envoy says. The Guardian. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/31/ukraine-kurt-volker-us-arms-supplies

[5] International Republican Institute, & The Government of Canada. (2016, January 01). Public Opinion Survey Residents of Ukraine: May 28-June 14, 2016 [PPT]. Washington, DC: International Republican Institute. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/2016-07-08_ukraine_poll_shows_skepticism_glimmer_of_hope.pdf

[6] Al Jazeera News. (2017, February 17). ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ seeks sense of nationhood. Al Jazeera. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/donetsk-people-republic-seeks-sense-nationhood-170217043602195.html

[7] Ioffe, J. (2018, January/February). What Putin Really Wants. The Atlantic. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/putins-game/546548/

[8] VICE News. (2015). The War May be Over: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 110). Clip. United States: Vice News. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsr1J6F76XY

[9] Webb, I. (2017, February 6). Kiev Is Fueling the War in Eastern Ukraine, Too. Foreign Policy. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/06/its-not-just-putin-fueling-war-in-ukraine-trump-donbas/

[10] The Economist. (2016, September 14). What are the Minsk agreements? The Economist. Retrieved December 18, 2018, from https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2016/09/13/what-are-the-minsk-agreements

[11] Council of the European Union. (2009). Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia: Report (Vol. 1, Publication). Brussels: The European Council. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/HUDOC_38263_08_Annexes_ENG.pdf

[12] Allison, R. (2008). Russia resurgent? Moscow’s campaign to ‘coerce Georgia to peace’. International Affairs, 84(6), 1145-1171. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2008.00762.x

[13] Percy, N. (Producer). (2012). Putin, Russia and the West, Part III: War. Documentary movie. United Kingdom: BBC.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Waal, T. D. (2010). The Caucasus: An Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[16] Finn, P. (2008, August 13). Moscow Agrees To Georgia Truce. Washington Post Foreign Service. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/12/AR2008081200365.html

[17] Webb, I. “Kiev War.”

[18] Pifer, S. (2017, February 15). Minsk II at two years. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/02/15/minsk-ii-at-two-years/

Assessment Papers Georgia Russia Sarah Martin Ukraine

Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Michael Sheldon is a recent graduate of the Peace and Conflict Studies BA at Malmo University.  Through his academic pursuits and private initiatives, Michael has conducted analysis on the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, specializing in rebel forces.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Date Originally Written:  August 16, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 21, 2017.

Summary:  The Malorossiya proposition, as presented on July 18, 2017 by head of Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Alexander Zakharchenko, was intended to absorb Ukraine in its entirety under rebel control, relocating the capital to Donetsk.  While success seemed unlikely, there were local political objectives to be gained.  After less than a month, the project was cancelled, likely to be succeeded by similar proposals.

Text:  On July 18, ‘Head of the Republic’ of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Alexander Zakharchenko announced the Malorossiya project at a press briefing[1].  The news came as a surprise to virtually everyone in-and-outside of rebel territory.  Along with the press briefing, two papers were released to the public through a local “DNR” news organization “DNR-Pravda”, one being a political statement in relation to the project, and the other being a “constitutional act”[2].

Recalling the “DNR” constitution as presented in 2014[3] during the early days of separatism, the constitutional act as it was presented in written form differed in several respects.  Firstly, this act is technically not a legal document and only serves as a guideline for an actual constitution to be adopted by referendum.  The primary goal of the Malorossiya proposal was Ukrainian unification under the federal umbrella of ‘Malorossiya’, literally meaning ‘little Russia.’  The proposed capital for this new federation would be the city of Donetsk, the current capital of ‘DNR,’ granting Kyiv the status of cultural capital.  Other political provisions were also made, reflecting the Soviet nostalgia that has been salient in the separatist states.  This was made apparent especially in the clauses stipulating a union of states between Russia, Belarus and ‘Malorossiya,’ and “Rehabilitation of the Soviet legacy.”

Zakharchenko’s move came long after the apparent failure of a previous ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia) project, which aimed to create a confederation between the two rebel entities ‘DNR’ and ‘Lugansk People’s’ Republic’ (LNR/LPR)[4].  While the Novorossiya project by and large turned out fruitless, it had come to hold great cultural value ever since the beginning of the conflict early 2014.  The very concept of Novorossiya stipulates a regional type of brotherhood in the region of Ukraine spanning from Odessa to Kharkov, regions with larger Russian ethnic populations.  This concept has come to have not only great cultural significance for inhabitants in regions controlled by rebel authorities, but has also come to dictate cooperation between the two rebel entities LNR and DNR.  This cooperation primarily comes in military support from DNR, which has lended its 7th Separate Mechanized Brigade[5] to LNR, and assisted in providing security and rapid reaction forces to internal instability in LNR[6].

In part, at least on a broader grassroots level, these factors have contributed to the chilled reception that the notion of an analogous Malorossiya project experienced.  The concept of Novorossiya and its flag had come to symbolize separatism in the east, for which many had given their lives, but would now be scrapped in favor of a unification project.  This combined with the lack of progress made with the Novorossiya project over the past three years left Zakharchenko with a skeptical population.  Denis Pushilin, chairman of the People’s Soviet (Council) of the ‘DNR’ also came out reserved on the topic of Malorossiya, stressing the need for parliamentary process, but also that there was no legal or normative basis for what Zakharchenko planned to carry out [7].  Igor Plotnitsky, head of ‘LNR’, was not enamored with the idea of ‘Malorossiya’ either, claiming that ‘LNR’ had not been notified of Zakharchenko’s plans prior to the press conference.  The Kremlin also denied involvement in the project [8], and while it is hardly a reliable source for this conflict, it is difficult to imagine that they would have any stake in a power struggle between the two rebel ‘republics.’

At first it seemed that the project could yield some positive results for Zakharchenko and solidify his personal power within ‘DNR.’  As it was planned, the project would have thrown the participating states into what was referred to as a “transitional period” for three years[9].  Possibly a motivating factor for announcing the proposition, this transitional period clause could have helped Zakharchenko put off elections even further, enabling a perpetual state of deferral.  Neither ‘DNR’ nor ‘LNR’ are strangers to putting off elections, something which each have done twice the past three years[10].  The constitutional act also speculates denying political parties to act as ‘political subjects’, and proposes transitioning to personal representations.  Other positives for Zakharchenko in this proposal are the political points he likely hopes to win with it.  For one, pushing for a ‘Malorossiya’ encompassing all of Ukraine (Crimea included) sends a signal of reconciliation, albeit on his terms, enabling him to further the narrative of an uncooperative and unreasonable Kyiv, these notions are echoed by Vladislav Surkov, advisor to president Vladimir Putin[11].  Secondly, Zakharchenko effectively brought up the notion of Donetsk having sovereignty over ‘LNR’, which had seen its fair share of instability and coup attempts in the past.

Zakharchenko soon became aware of the criticism that the proposition had received, and clarified that he was never establishing a new state, but merely proposing one shortly after the announcement[12].  Not even a month had passed before, on August 9, 2017, Zakharchenko officially abandoned the proposal as a result of the early resistance he had faced with regards to the name “Malorossiya” especially[13].  Nonetheless, Zakharchenko maintained that the proposal had not been in vain, as it had given way to a range of new interesting proposals.  Moving forward, it will be pertinent to keep an eye on similar proposals relating to a federal Ukraine under rebel control, undoubtedly other a different name.  Whether this would mean a revival of the Novorossiya project or a similar project under a new name is uncertain, but it is likely that Zakharchenko will continue to push for the underlying notions of the Malorossiya proposition.  This would entail a confederation of Ukrainian states under a pro-Russian leadership in Donetsk.  While such an undertaking is virtually impossible outside of rebel territory, it is possible that a Donetsk-led DNR-LNR confederation could gain enough local support to be feasible.  If one can ignore the overarching theme of Ukrainian unification, the proposal of a Malorossiya project serves as an important glance into the intentions of ‘DNR’ head Zakharchenko.


Endnotes:

[1] DAN-news. (2017, July 18). Представители ДНР, ЛНР и регионов Украины объявили в Донецке о создании государства Малороссия (Representatives of the DNR, LNR and regions of Ukraine announced in Donetsk the creation of the Malorossiya state). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/predstaviteli-dnr-lnr-i-regionov-ukrainy-obyavili-v-donecke-o-sozdanii-gosudarstva-malorossiya.html

[2] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[3] DNR Official Website. (2014, May 14). Конституция ДНР (DNR Constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-online.ru/konstituciya-dnr/

[4] Lenta. (2014, June 24). ДНР и ЛНР объединятся в конфедерацию с единой конституцией (DNR and LNR will join the confederation with a single constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://lenta.ru/news/2014/06/24/novorossia/

[5] DNR People’s Militia, 1st Army Corps. (2015, October 20). VK post. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://vk.com/dnrarmy?w=wall-51146063_5569

[6] Andrey, G. (2016, September 22). Захарченко: Для предотвращения переворота в ЛНР был переброшен батальон “Спарта” (Zakharchenko: To prevent the coup in the LNR, “Sparta” battalion was sent). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://life.ru/t/новости/907002/zakharchienko_dlia_priedotvrashchieniia_pierievorota_v_lnr_byl_pieriebroshien_batalon_sparta

[7] DAN-News. (2017, July 18). Вопрос создания Малороссии целесообразно вынести на обсуждение парламента и общественности – Пушилин (The issue of creating Little Russia is expedient for discussion of the parliament and the public – Pushilin). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/vopros-sozdaniya-malorossii-celesoobrazno-vynesti-na-obsuzhdenie-parlamenta-i-obshhestvennosti-pushilin.html

[8] TASS. (2017, July 18). Malorossiya project is personal initiative of self-proclaimed republic’s leader. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://tass.com/politics/956825

[9] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from  http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[10] 112.ua. (2016, July 24). “DNR” again postponed “elections” in the occupied Donbas. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://112.international/conflict-in-eastern-ukraine/dnr-again-postponed-elections-in-the-occupied-donbas-7515.html

[11] Denis, A. (2017, July 20). Реакция на Малороссию (Reactions to Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://cont.ws/@artemevsepar/668685

[12] Korrespondent.net. (2017, July 26). Захарченко рассказал о проблемах с “Малороссией” (Zakharchenko spoke about problems with Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3872258-zakharchenko-rasskazal-o-problemakh-s-malorossyei

[13] av-zakharchenko.su. (2017, August 9). Переформатирование Украины. Дискуссия продолжается… (Reform of Ukraine. The discussion continues…). Retreived August 16, 2017, from http://av-zakharchenko.su/inner-article/Zayavleniya/Pereformatirovanie-Ukrainy-Diskussiya-prodolzhaetsya2/

Assessment Papers Irregular Forces Michael Sheldon Russia Ukraine

Options for U.S. Sanctions Towards Russia for Aggression in Ukraine

Michael Martinez is a graduate student at University of Maryland University College where he is currently obtaining his master’s degree in intelligence management.  He also holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Coastal Carolina University.  He can be found on Twitter @MichaelMartinez.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  U.S. economic sanctions towards Russia following its aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Date Originally Written:  March 1, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 17, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the standpoint of the U.S. national security community regarding future plans or movement on Russian sanctions.

Background:  In February 2014 the Olympic winter games had just concluded in Sochi.  Russia was in the midst of invading the Crimea region and portions of Eastern Ukraine.  The U.S. placed targeted economic sanctions on Russia as a reaction to its invasion.  While these sanctions have been detrimental to Russia’s economy, President Vladimir Putin is still holding portions of Eastern Ukraine and attempting to annex the Donbas region as Russian territory.  The first round of the sanctions from the U.S. were a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while a second round began as the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia failed to take hold[1].  The future of Russian aggression towards Ukraine is undetermined at this time.

Significance:  In the U.S., the Trump Administration is taking a significantly more laissez-faire approach to Russia and Russian government officials, including Putin, than President Barack Obama did.  Any change in U.S. policy towards Russia will have significant impacts in Eastern Europe and on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members – as matters of economics, trade, and territorial occupation are concerned.  A declining Russian populous and economy, being backed into a corner, can provide for dangerous consequences, especially since its military and nuclear stockpiles are quite viable.

Option #1:  The U.S. continues current economic sanctions until Russia withdrawals its forces from Crimea and the Donetsk region, including other areas of Eastern Ukraine.

Risk:  As the U.S. keeps economic pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine’s sovereign territory, a new Cold War may develop as a stalemate between the U.S. and the Russian plays out.  Russia will hold on to the territory it occupies at this point in time and continue cross border skirmishes into the Donetsk region.

Gain:  If U.S. economic sanctions against Russia were to remain in place, these sanctions  and NATO pressure in the form of expanded presence is put upon the Russian government to rethink its strategy in Ukraine.  If these sanctions continue, the Ruble will sustain its downward trajectory and inflation will continue to rise, especially for consumer goods.  Economic contraction will put pressure on the Russian government to take corrective action and rethink their position to counter public opinion.  In 2015, the Russian economy contracted by 3.7%, while it shrank another 0.7% in 2016[2].

Option #2:  The U.S. lifts economic sanctions against Russia to give the Russian population economic stability in a country that heavily relies on oil and gas exports as the main driver of its economy and much of its wealth.

Risk:  Lifting sanctions may send a signal to the Russian administration that its behavior is warranted, acceptable, and falls in line with global norms.  President Putin may feel emboldened to keep moving his forces west to annex further portions of Ukraine.  Most of Eastern Ukraine could become a war zone, and humanitarian efforts would have to be implemented by the United Nations and other Non-Governmental Organizations if more grave violations of the Minsk (II) Protocol occurred.  Putin’s ultimate plan might involve gaining influence in other former Soviet satellite nations.  As such, a Ukraine-like effort may repeat itself elsewhere.  Lifting sanctions might give Putin a green light for his next conquest.

Gain:  The Russian people may take a friendlier view and role towards the U.S. and allow for more trade.  President Putin may be more open to multilateral trade negotiations.  A new trade agreement may become possible between Russia and the U.S., including countries that have been targeted by Russian aggression such as – Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States.  A restoration and expansion of the Commonwealth of Independent States Free Trade Agreement or similar agreement, would be prudent to economic activity in the region[3].  Of note is that Ukraine is in a position where it now relies on Germany and Western European nations for imports and likely cannot stand on its own.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendations:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Baer, Daniel. (24, February 2017). Don’t forget the Russian sanctions are Russia’s fault. Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 1, 2017. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/24/dont-forget-the-russia-sanctions-are-russias-fault/

[2]  Kottasova, Ivana. (26, February 2017). What would rolling back U.S. sanctions mean for Russia? CNN Money. Retrieved March 1, 2017 http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/16/news/economy/russia-sanctions-trump/index.html

[3]  “Russia Trade Agreements”. (23, June 2016). Exports.gov. Retrieved March 1, 2017 https://www.export.gov/article?id=Russia-Trade-Agreements

Economic Factors Michael Martinez Option Papers Russia Ukraine United States

Options to Arm Volunteer Territorial Defense Battalions in Ukraine

Daniel Urchick is a defense and foreign policy analyst and a Young Professionals in Foreign Policy East Europe and Eurasia Fellow.  Daniel tweets at @DanielUrchick.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Ukrainian-Separatist conflict in the Donbas.

Date Originally Written:  February 20, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 2, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the perspective of a Ukrainian National Security Advisor, offering options on the possible utilization of the pro-Ukrainian government territorial defense battalions, supplementing the regular military and Ukrainian Government’s efforts to either defeat the separatists in the Donbas region, or create a more favorable situation on the ground for the next round of peace talks.

Background:  The Ukrainian military appears to have begun what has been characterized as a “creeping offensive [1]” to the north of Donetsk City in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).  Ukrainian Military forces have made limited advances into the neutral space between government and separatist-controlled territory, known as the “gray zone,” to capture several contested villages such as Novoluhanske north of the city of Horvlika.  It is estimated that about 5,000 Russian troops remain in the Donbas in various capacities along with about 40,000 pro-Russian separatists.  The Ukrainian Military has an estimated 60,000 soldiers along the line of contact with an additional unofficial estimate of 10,000-11,000 “territorial defense battalion” personnel along the front and dispersed around the country.  There are currently 40 territorial defense battalions operating in Ukraine today[2].

Most of the territorial defense battalions were formed by wealthy business oligarchs who provide the majority of the funding and limited supplies.  As a result, most men in any given battalion are likely more loyal to the oligarch that formed the organization than to the State.  Most battalions are integrated into the Ukrainian Military to some degree.  Some remain completely outside the official Ukrainian Military structure.  Still others are in the process of being more fully integrated into the Ukrainian Military structure.  Non-integrated defense battalions do not receive sufficient materiel and logistical support from the military thus they cannot adequately defend against or attack the heavily armed separatists.  Integrated battalions fair little better in their armament and have been provided second tier light armor assets.

Significance:  The arming of territorial defense battalions is an important question aimed at winning the conflict with the Separatists in the Donbas, or at the least, producing a more favorable situation on the ground in future peace negotiations.  The battalions are an important source of manpower with high morale that could be better utilized.  Providing better equipment to the battalions could radically impact the domestic political situation in the Ukraine.  Thus, the right answer to the question of arming the battalions is important to both the defense and political communities in Ukraine, but also to every Western nation supporting Ukraine.

Option #1:  Supply territorial defense battalions full access to the Ukrainian Military’s arsenal of modern heavy armored equipment and other advanced weapon systems.

Risk:  Territorial defense battalions may still not fully submit to the authority of the Ukrainian Military and remain more loyal to their oligarch founders, increasing warlordism.  Battalions with low discipline may also choose to upgrade their equipment in an unauthorized manner, endangering their safety and the safety of friendly forces around them.  The obligation to maintain, fund, and supply armored assets fall on the Ukrainian State which has faced budget constraints since the September 2015 sovereign debt restructuring deal.  Providing territorial defense battalions with heavy armor assets could give Russia, the DNR and LNR pretext for an overt arms race and security dilemma, leading to a breakdown in the relative stability of the Minsk II Agreement.

Gain:  If used in a defensive capacity, the fully equipped territorial defense battalions could become a highly capable reinforcement to the normal line of contact against any possible separatist (counter)offensives, raising the level of deterrence.  As a credible deterrent force, the battalions will allow the military to mass its regular forces for local superiority should it choose to go on a larger offensive.  Supplying the battalions with better equipment is a popular political move.  Option #1 would reinforce the coalition government of President Poroshenko, which has right-wing elements, who have been the most supportive of past armament plans.  Territorial defense battalions are incentivized to remain operating within the Ukrainian military force structure and supporting the government that has now adequately supported them.  Equipment interoperability is maintained throughout Ukrainian forces operating along the line of contact, easing logistical problems that have plagued the military.

Option #2:  Continue to restrict the supply of modern heavy armor assets and other advanced vehicle systems to the territorial defense battalions.

Risk:  The territorial defense battalions, as an important pool of military manpower that can be utilized along the line of contact for both defensive and offensive operations, is deprived of equipment that would be critical to their survival in such operations.  The Poroshenko Government risks increased public dissent by going against public support for arming these battalions.  President Poroshenko also risks further splintering his coalition and pushing the right-wing elements of parliament further away from cooperation.  The battalions will not have an important incentive to remain operating within an official force structure, as their perception of being cannon fodder grows.

Gain:  Right-wing affiliated territorial defense battalions, or battalions with particularly strong loyalty to an oligarch who could be potentially hostile to the Poroshenko regime in the future, are denied heavy weaponry.  Battalions that have low morale, or are facing discipline or disbandment, will not be able to defect to the Separatist-controlled territory with important heavy weapon stocks.  The Ukrainian government does not have to provide funding and supplies for an expensive military equipment program during a time of fiscal constraint.  The restriction helps prevent the flow of weapons onto the black market from these battalions low on funds, morale or discipline.  The DNR and LNR, as well as Russia, are not given a pretext for breaking off the Minsk Agreements entirely or for launching a preemptive offensive.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Webb, Isaac. (2017, January 26). “Ukrainian forces creep into war’s gray zone,” KyivPost, retrieved from: http://www.pressreader.com/ukraine/kyiv-post/20170127/281500750970900

[2]  Pejic, Igor. (2016, October 05). “Kiev’s Volunteer Battalions in the Donbass Conflict,” South Front, retrieved from: https://southfront.org/kievs-volunteer-battalions-in-the-donbass-conflict/

Daniel Urchick Irregular Forces Option Papers Russia Ukraine