UD. 9 July 2016.  By Petro Rewko.

Report on Russia

The UK’s Parliamentary Select Committee for Defence published it report earlier this week on “Russia: Implications for UK defence and security”.

The report calls on the forthcoming NATO Warsaw Summit to restore its defences, review its deterrence and reopen its dialogue with the Russian authorities.

A press statement summarised that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine have undermined the post-Cold War assumption of a stable Europe in which the military threat to NATO is low.

Committee chairman Julian Lewis MP said:

“The fact that NATO and the UK were ‘taken by surprise’ by the interventions in Ukraine shows a failure to comprehend President Putin’s determination to maintain a sphere of influence beyond Russia’s own frontier, if necessary by force.”

According to the Report, Russia has become increasingly active, not only in conventional warfare, but in unconventional methods—often deniable—which are designed to fall below the threshold that would trigger the Article 5 NATO guarantee. 

Article 5 is the undertaking to consider an armed attack against one NATO member state as an attack against them all.

Whilst the creation of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), among NATO member states and the Enhanced Forward Presence on NATO’s contested eastern flank are steps in the right direction, the Committee warns that the VJTF has only just been formed and its capacity to guarantee to deploy the necessary forces within the required time-frame is as yet unproven.

Among the Report’s recommendations are:

* To recognise the extent of Russian remilitarisation and robustly to respond to it.

* To review the effectiveness of current deterrence policy against nuclear, conventional and hybrid or ‘multi-dimensional’ warfare.

* To determine whether the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is in need of repair or replacement, in the light of allegations that Russia has breached its provisions.

* To set out the timetable for the Trident Successor submarine debate and decision in Parliament “without further delay”.

* To encourage renewal of EU sanctions against Russia and consideration of their extension to a wider group amongst the Kremlin leadership.

* To accept that it is “perfectly possible to confront and constrain an adversary in a region where our interests clash, whilst cooperating with him, to some degree, in a region where they coincide”, and that the threat posed by DAESH, al-Qaeda and other international terrorists is an example of the latter.

The Committee considers that Russian cyber-attacks across Europe, and territorial seizures in Georgia and Ukraine, may not be isolated actions but symptomatic of an ambition to restore Moscow’s global influence. 

Because Russia is a global player, there remain opportunities for cooperation, if they can be grasped.

However, with relations at an “all time low”, the Committee concludes that the UK must urgently boost its cadre of Russian specialists and restore and maintain a high level of expertise for the foreseeable future. Given the current climate, the Defence Attaché’s office in Moscow, for example, must be properly staffed by the end of the year.

Dr Lewis concluded that “we cannot hope to understand Russia without a forthright dialogue and, under current conditions of mistrust, we run the risk blundering into conflicts that may be preventable through better communication.”

Border Crossings blocked 

Earlier this week there were tensions on the Ukrainian Polish border crossings at Rava-Rusk, Krakovets and Shegyni after Polish authorities suspended the movement of “small border traffic”. 

The State Border Service of Ukraine warned that from 4 July until 2 August the residents of border areas of Ukraine would be able to cross into Polish territory only according to the standard procedure, i.e. with an international passport and visa.  

Local residents reacted by blocking three checkpoints and there were clashes between Ukrainians and Polish border guards. 

On 4 July protesters at the Rava-Ruska checkpoint blocked a car belonging to the Polish consul. 

Poland’s Foreign Ministry said that the suspension of small border traffic was due to the upcoming NATO summit taking place in Warsaw on 8-9 July and events relating to the World Youth Day celebrations in Krakow, which expects to have around 2.5 million visitors. 

Assistant chairman of Ukraine’s State Border Service, Oleh Slobodyan, issued a statement via facebook on 6 July saying; “We managed to get the situation sorted out at the checkpoint Krakovets. The road leading to the checkpoint is unblocked. Thus, all the checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border are operating in the normal way”. 

Was this a flash point to destabalise relations between the two countries or just a misunderstanding that got out of hand? 

The Polish Foreign Ministry said: “If you were able to read, you would have noticed that the limitations of border traffic have nothing to do with our liking or not liking anybody. The same situation takes place at the Polish-Russian border. Patience please”. 

However, with other issues between the two countries coming to the fore, the most notable of which was the recent use of sharper and potentially more irreconcilable language by individual members of the ruling party in Poland about events that took place during World War II, and in particular, the Volyn tragedy, the question arises as to whether this is the start of a cold front between Ukraine and Poland? 

More likely, perhaps, there is a third party doing its best to stir mistrust between the two countries. Earlier this week the AUGB addressed its concerns to the Polish Ambassador to the UK, Witold Sobkow.

Thankfully, there are many prominent intellectuals in Poland and Ukraine who are prepared to take very public stands in the spirit of reconciliation, building trust and stronger ties for the future, as witnessed this week in an open letter signed by former Polish Presidents Lech Walesa, Alexander Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski among others.

Frontline football tournament

As football fans prepare for the climax of the Euro 2016 tournament in France, battle-hardened troops of Ukraine’s 10th assault brigade are playing their own tournament against locals close to the war-scarred Eastern Front.

“After completing your watch at the front with a machinegun in your hands, standing knee-deep in mud in the trenches, you think only about getting some sleep, not training,” said 37-year-old Ukrainian soldier Oleksander Demchenko, as exploding shells reverberated around him.

Yet in spite of their exhausting missions, many of the fighters go to play football straight from the battlefield.

Some still have mud on their boots as they prepare to take to the slippery pitch in the government-held town of Kurakhove, which is just west of the pro-Russian rebels’ de facto capital Donetsk, about 12 miles from the front line.

The football competition is intended to relieve tension and bring a sense of normality.  Teams facing the soldiers are made up of local athletes. 

The contest of 17 teams ultimately ended with victory for one of the local sides, which received strong support from Lyubov, a pensioner living in an apartment block overlooking the school yard where the games were played, who said:  “It is much better to kick around a ball than to fight.”

Support for NATO increases

Over the past two years the number of Alliance supporters in Ukraine has significantly increased.

According to the results of a research conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Fund and the Razumkov Centre, 43% of Ukrainians now consider NATO membership as a main guarantee for Ukraine’s national security.

The study showed that in recent years the regional NATO support map has been dramatically changing. 

In 2012, 37% of the population in Western Ukraine supported NATO membership, while 34% preferred a non-aligned status. Only 1% of Ukrainians living in the Donbas were in favour of the NATO membership compared to 14% of residents living in central Ukraine.

In 2014 Ukrainians started expressing more interest towards NATO and by May 2016, some 46% of of the population in central Ukraine and 19% of respondents in Ukraine’s Southern regions (7% in April 2012) regarded NATO membership as a guarantee for security.

Sociologists emphasize that people living in eastern Ukraine have demonstrated the greatest switch towards an alliance with NATO. In 2012 just 2% of residents in the eastern regions of Ukraine were in favour of NATO membership but by May 2016, the level of support had grown to 29%.

Ukraine’s police force - one year on...

Exactly a year ago Ukraine’s new police officers first started patrolling the streets of Kyiv. 

Now they are patrol most of the major cities across Ukraine. 

This reform has proven to be a massive success for the Ukrainian government and brought a rapid career growth for some. 

Chief of National Police of Ukraine, Khatia Dekanoyidze, spoke about the achievements and challenges facing the force and said that there is a noticeable increase in trust towards the police within society in general. Dekanoyidze added that “every day is special for us because we are police officers working hard every day… fighting criminals on the streets”.

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