Ukraine: Daily Briefing – December 18, 2018, 5 PM Kyiv time

Ukraine: Daily Briefing
December 18, 2018, 5 PM Kyiv time
Operation UNIFIER training exercises. Photo – CAF Operations
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that in the last 24 hours, no Ukrainian soldiers were killed or wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 7 times in total.
2. US Ukraine envoy: Idea of extra Russia sanctions “gaining traction”
US Special Representative Ambassador Kurt Volker. Photo – Reuters
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported, “A drive to impose more sanctions on Russia seems to be “gaining some traction” following a naval confrontation in the Black Sea last month, according to the U.S. special envoy for Ukraine.
            Kurt Volker made the comments during an online briefing in Brussels on December 17, after Russian seized three Ukrainian Navy ships and 24 crewmen in the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov. The November 25 incident escalated tensions in the region and prompted international calls for the sailors’ release. […]
           Volker told reporters that in Europe, ‘the notion that there needs to be a response and some additional sanctions and listing of names would occur seems to be one that’s gaining some traction.’
           ‘I would not be surprised at all to see that happen in the next month or two,’ he added.
           Volker said the restrictions could have a ‘deterrent effect’ on Moscow because ‘it will be an indicator to Russia that future acts will also be met with sanctions.’ […]
           NATO has pledged support for Ukraine’s navy to improve its naval capabilities and the alliance said it will also deliver secure communications equipment to Ukraine’s military by the end of this year.
          Volker said a foreign military-financing package of around $250 million to sell additional military equipment to Ukraine was currently being reviewed by the U.S. Congress.”
3. Joint press statement following the 5th Association Council meeting between the EU and Ukraine
EU-Ukraine Association Council Highlights - to view video please click on image above
EU-Ukraine Association Council Highlights
 To view video please click on image above
The European Union reported on December 17, “The European Union and Ukraine held the fifth meeting of the Association Council on 17 December 2018 in Brussels. The Association Council took place after the first full year since the entry into force of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area) on 1 September 2017, which has led to a positive development in bilateral trade and reform progress. The visa-free regime for Ukrainian citizens travelling to the European Union has also now been effectively implemented for more than one year. Over half a million Ukrainians have so far benefited from it.
           The Association Council expressed its utmost concern regarding the escalation at the Kerch Strait and the Azov Sea, and Russia’s violation of international law, as well as further militarisation in the area. In November Russian border guard ships rammed and fired shots at Ukrainian vessels which then were seized by Russia together with their crews. There is no justification for the use of military force by Russia.
           The Association Council called on Russia to immediately release seized Ukrainian vessels and 24 detained servicemen, as well as to ensure unhindered and free passage through the Kerch Strait to and from the Sea of Azov, in accordance with international law. The European Union will continue to follow closely the situation and is determined to act appropriately, in close coordination with its international partners.
           The Association Council discussed possibilities of providing targeted EU support to the Azov region. The EU stood ready to adopt measures to strengthen further its support, in particular in favour of the affected areas of Ukraine. In this context, the EU envisaged sending an assessment mission to Ukraine in the beginning of 2019.”
4. US State Department on establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine
The US State Department stated on December 17, “The United States congratulates Metropolitan Epifaniy on his election as head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The establishment of the Church was a historic moment for Ukraine. The United States maintains unwavering support for Ukraine and respects the freedom to worship unhindered by outside interference. The right to religious freedom extends to all Ukrainians, including those choosing to join – or not to join – the new Orthodox Church.”
5. Davos World Economic Forum bows to Moscow pressure to lift ban on sanctioned Russians
The Financial Times reported, “The World Economic Forum in Davos has bowed to pressure from Moscow and gone back on its decision to ban three Russian businessmen subject to US sanctions from the exclusive conference, following high-level diplomacy involving the Swiss government.
           Russia had threatened to boycott January’s event after its organisers barred aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska, industrialist Viktor Vekselberg and state bank head Andrei Kostin, who are all subject to wide-ranging sanctions imposed by Washington.
          The about-turn by the prestigious mountain-top business and political conference is likely to irritate US authorities who have sought to use the sanctions to punish Moscow for ‘malign activities’ including the annexation of Crimea and alleged meddling in the 2016 US election. […]
          The Financial Times in October revealed that the three men had been informed they were not welcome at Davos. […] The trio was hit by US sanctions in April that banned them from doing business with US citizens and froze their US assets.”
6. UN General Assembly adopts Resolution urging Russia to withdraw its armed forces from occupied Crimea
The United Nations reported on December 17, “The General Assembly today adopted a resolution urging the Russian Federation to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and end its temporary occupation of Ukraine’s territory without delay. […]
            In adopting the resolution “The problem of militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” (document A/73/L.47), by a recorded vote of 66 in favour to 19 against, with 72 abstentions, the Assembly expressed concern about the use of force by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, including seizing three Ukrainian vessels on 25 November.  It also called for the release of Ukraine’s vessels and crew members it captured.
           By terms of “L.47”, the Assembly called for the utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation immediately.  It also condemned the Russian Federation’s construction and opening of the Kerch Strait bridge between the Russian Federation and temporarily occupied Crimea, which facilitates the further militarization of Crimea.
           The Assembly further condemned the increasing military presence of the Russian Federation in parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.  It called on the Russian Federation to refrain from impeding the lawful exercise of navigational rights and freedoms and stressed that the presence of Russian troops in Crimea is contrary to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

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