Monday, December 17, 2018

Russia's Pressure Points on Ukraine

By the ISW Russia Team

Key Takeaway: Russia is expanding the variety of means it uses to threaten Ukraine along multiple borders - from the Sea of Azov and Donbas to Western Ukraine. The Kremlin retains the capability and intent to escalate these threats as necessary in order to challenge the Government of Ukraine. The Kremlin is attempting to inflame religious and social tensions to polarize Ukraine ahead of Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. Russia will continue to use all means necessary to advance its long-term objective to reassert its sphere of influence over Ukraine.

Russia continues to bolster its military capabilities on the occupied Crimean Peninsula, including air, naval and anti-access area-denial assets, in order to create a credible deterrent against a potential response by NATO. 


Russia continues to threaten military escalation and maintain a de-facto blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov. Russia’s likely long-term objective is to gain total control over the Sea of Azov and the port city of Mariupol. The blockade fosters economic grievances among Ukrainians in Berdyansk and Mariupol and is intended to further weaken the fragile Government of Ukraine.

Russia is fueling tensions over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s recent acquisition of autonomy from Moscow to polarize Ukraine. Ukrainian officials warned that the Russian Security Services (FSB) are organizing violent demonstrations in Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Kherson, and Mykolayiv Oblasts against the autocephalous status of the Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox Church. Russia however failed in its attempts to disrupt a significant meeting to recognize the Ukrainian Eastern Orthodox Church on December 15. The threat nonetheless remains a pressure point for future relations between Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey.

Russia is preparing its separatist proxies for a potential escalation in Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin is flooding the information space with false warnings that indicate its intentions to spread fear about an upcoming attack. The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed that Ukraine and the West are planning imminent attacks in Donbas. Russian-backed separatists alleged that Ukraine and its allies plan to conduct a chemical weapons attack near separatist-held Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian Armed Forces Commander Gen. Viktor Muzhenko confirmed a buildup of Russian T-62s along the Russian-Ukrainian Border since October 2018.

Russia is subverting the upcoming elections in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) accused Russia of using “troll factories” to interfere in the 2019 Ukrainian Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.

Russia is intensifying its information campaign in Southern Ukraine in order to sow distrust and weaken the legitimacy of the Government of Ukraine. Russian media claimed that Ukraine plans to attack Kherson Oblast near Crimea in Southern Ukraine on December 24 - 25.

Russia is targeting the borders of Western Ukraine. Russia continues to use subversive tools to inflame ethnic tensions and separatist sentiments in Zakharpatiya Oblast in order to drive a wedge between Ukraine and its neighbors in Poland and Hungary. Russia hackers attacked the computer systems of more than one hundred military and state institutions in Western Ukraine on December 14, according to the SBU.