VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT: Conversation: The Standoff Between Russia and the West Over Ukraine

Map of Ukraine, Including Crimea, and Neighbors, Including Russia

(Stratfor.com – June 23, 2015)

Conversation: The Standoff Between Russia and the West Over Ukraine is republished with permission of Stratfor; article also appeared at stratfor.com/video/conversation-standoff-between-russia-and-west-over-ukraine. Transcript follows below video.

Video Transcript

Lauren Goodrich: Hello, my name is Lauren Goodrich, and I’m the senior Eurasia analyst here at Stratfor. I’m joined by Sim Tack, our military analyst, and today we’re going to be discussing Russia, the West and the ongoing standoff over Ukraine. So Sim, today is the next round of foreign minister talks in Paris between the Normandy four, so Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine. And going into these talks, Russia made it very clear that it does not want the United States to be part of these talks. And this comes right as the United States has a senatorial delegation inside of Ukraine meeting with Poroshenko, who keeps saying that Russia is escalating on the ground inside Ukraine. So, Sim, are we actually seeing an escalation on the ground?

Sim Tack: We actually have seen a relative escalation over the past two weeks in eastern Ukraine. It’s important to qualify that what we are not seeing is a return to large military offensives where, you know, the separatists or the Ukrainians are trying to recover large portions of terrain. What we have seen, however, is a general escalation of the number of ceasefire violation incidents, and we have also seen the separatists and Ukraine actually push equipment that they were supposed to have withdrawn under the Minsk II agreement, they’ve basically been pushing those back to the front lines, and we’ve seen them use those again. And quite notably today has actually seen a relative decrease in that number of violations, which could potentially be related to the start of the Normandy talks, although there are several dynamics playing into each other there that define the level of intensity on the front lines.

Lauren: Now is this just on the Ukrainian side, I mean, on the Russian side or is Ukraine as well, both ramping up?

Sim: We are seeing both sides conduct activities that they weren’t conducting before. One of the big questions, of course, is who shot first. There is one story line as told by the Ukrainians that has the separatists ramping up their activities and Ukraine of course has to respond to this to maintain their defensive positions around them. Of course, from the separatist side, their claim is that it is the Ukrainians that are trying to escalate the situation and restart an offensive. That particularly is very difficult to pinpoint, and on a tactical level, in different locations along the front line, that might actually be different. Like, in some places Ukrainian forces might be breaching the cease-fire towards the separatists, while it would be the opposite in other locations.

Lauren: Now we’re seeing this as Russia is stepping back and shaping the perception of what’s taking place on the ground within the negotiations in the Normandy four, in that Russia’s not looking for an immediate agreement anymore. Russia initially from what we could’ve seen, was really pushing for an agreement on Minsk, because it needed sanctions lifted on Russia from the EU and from the United States.

However the EU has now said sanctions are going to be in place for at least another six months. The United States has given no indication of lifting sanctions. And so because of this Russia is more comfortable in keeping the pressure inside of Ukraine tactically. But, at the same time, it is shaping the perceptions going into these talks that negotiations are going to be going for a very a long time, and that these negotiations aren’t just about what’s happening in eastern Ukraine, but it’s the larger Western-Russia standoff, in that you have Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov say, “There will be no easing of tensions between Russia, the U.S. or the West unless there’s a settlement in Ukraine.” And then you have people like Security Council Chief Patrushev say the United States is aiming to actually collapse Russia via Ukraine. And so it’s not just about Ukraine anymore. It’s a much wider discussion going on between Russia and the West. And we’re also seeing this from the United States’ perception, in which the Pentagon has indicated that they’re settling in for a long standoff now. This is not just about Russia and the United States negotiating over Ukraine, but this is about the greater U.S. versus Russia in the context of Eurasia as a whole. And so what are you seeing as far as tactically between NATO and Russia outside of Ukraine?

Sim: Actually what you’re talking about there from the Pentagon’s perspective, one of the major things they have done is they continue to push forward with the deployment of forces to eastern Europe. So basically the United States will be rotating a brigade-sized unit through several different exercises with local countries there also depending on the NATO framework that is established there.

Lauren: And so this is part of the greater ramp-up that we have seen in tensions between NATO and the United States and Russia over the past year since the regime change in Ukraine, correct?

Sim: That’s correct. And we’ve also seen NATO itself as an organization conduct similar moves. We’ve seen the Wales summit last year in September decide on expanding the size of the NATO response force, which is about to double, as well as setting up a separate response force that will actually have certain units pre-deployed in Eastern Europe.

Lauren: So it seems that we’re not going to see any breakthrough in either the talks between the Normandy four or between the United States and Russia anytime soon. It seems that tensions are going to remain pretty heightened for the foreseeable future. Very interesting information, Sim, thank you. And thank you for watching. For more information on this topic, please go to Stratfor.com.

Conversation: The Standoff Between Russia and the West Over Ukraine is republished with permission of Stratfor.”