Syria military escalation won’t affect Donbas fighting, Volker says

16 April 2018

The U.S. government doesn’t believe the escalated fighting in Syria will repeat itself in the war-torn Donbas region of Ukraine, said U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, as reported by the 1+1 television network on Apr. 14. The military conflicts in Syria and Ukraine are different matters and the Kremlin isn’t planning to escalate its Donbas offensive soon, he said. “The Russians have been supporting the conflict in eastern Ukraine for four years now with tanks, mortars, infantry and electronic weapons. Everything you can imagine,” he told foreign correspondents in Washington. Therefore, there is constant rotation of hardware and fighters, which won’t change the nature of the fighting from the previous 3.5 years, he said.


The Russian government plans to create the preconditions for dispatching armies to the Ukrainian mainland this autumn, Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Deputy Head Viktor Kononenko told an Apr. 13 briefing. Members of Putin’s entourage are planning a military offensive on the basis of defending Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population, he said. In one scenario, pro-Russian demonstrations will be organized, including Orthodox Christian cross processions, which are planned to be attacked by hired thugs, he said. The SBU will work to prevent such staged attacks, he said.


Recall, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in mid-March that he expects Russia to escalate its hybrid warfare against Ukraine this autumn during the election campaign season. Avakov ruled out the possibility of a full-scale military advance. The presidential vote in Ukraine is scheduled for March 2019, while the parliamentary election is scheduled for October 2019.


Zenon Zawada: While Volker is correct in stating that the Donbas warfare isn’t likely to escalate in the coming weeks, we have been predicting since September 2017 (much earlier than Avakov’s warning) that Moscow is likely to intensify its aggression ahead of the 2019 elections with the goal of influencing them to produce a more desired outcome. While the next Ukrainian president (likely to be Poroshenko or Tymoshenko) is sure to support Euro-Atlantic integration, the Russian government will be aiming for a strong result of Russian-oriented parties in the parliamentary elections. Indeed polls are already indicating that the Russian-oriented parties could form the parliamentary minority, at minimum.


An effective way to improve the turnout of the Russian-oriented electorate would be to stage some violence directed at Ukraine’s large Russophile minority. The SBU will be working to prevent this, however its success will be limited by the fact that two popular Russian-oriented parties will be actively campaigning. Inevitably, they will raise issues of aligning militarily and politically with Russia, as well as protecting Russian-language rights. Inevitably, they will draw protests from Ukrainians, particularly nationalists, that are entirely genuine. So rather than staging violence, the Russian intelligence services could also manipulate real conflicts and exacerbate them.


When addressing the Kyiv Security Forum last week, Ukrainian President Poroshenko called for drafting new election laws that will protect next year’s election from Russia interference, including the Kremlin’s use of fake news and propaganda. Yet we don’t see how that’s possible while protecting the full participation of two Russian-oriented parties: the Opposition Bloc led by Yuriy Boyko and the For Life party led by media mogul Vadim Rabinovich.