With Volodymyr Zelensky's rise to power in Ukraine, the Kremlin likely sees an opportunity to gradually regain Russian economic and political influence in Ukraine. Other key constituencies with agendas that will disrupt Ukraine's reform path also perceive opportunities in this critical moment.
The Kremlin is tightening its domestic control over the information space inside Russia while refining the campaign targeting neighboring Ukraine ahead of the Ukrainian Presidential Election on March 31, 2019.
U.S. and NATO partner Ukraine is entering a critical election cycle as it attempts to defend against Russian aggression. Read an assessment of the candidates in Ukraine's March 31, 2019 presidential election and their alignment with Russian objectives.
The Kremlin is successfully increasing its political influence in Moldova. The pro-Kremlin Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova won the largest share in the February 24 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's political-military campaign in Ukraine undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and threatens Europe more than three years after Russia's invasion. Russian leaders will continue to extend and exploit the war to destabilize Ukraine and prevent its further integration with the West until the costs of their campaign change their calculus.
Russia heightened its military posture in Europe by projecting its land, air and naval capabilities. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on May 4 that it would create three new combined-arms divisions in the Western and Southern military districts, with a second announcement on June 3 specifying that these would include moving two motorized infantry brigades to its Western borders with Belarus and Ukraine.
Russia continued to aggressively posture against NATO in the Baltic and Black Sea regions while presenting itself as a responsible regional actor and victim of alleged western provocation. The first meeting of the NATO-Russia Council since June 2014 failed to make concrete progress, and the Russian Minister of Defense accused NATO of provocative troop deployments in Eastern Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely attempting to leverage his gains in the Syrian Civil War to expand Russia’s freedom of action in eastern Ukraine. Russia and the separatists began to escalate operations in eastern Ukraine in mid-February, directly coinciding with the implementation of the Syrian cessation of hostilities agreement on February 27 and subsequent drawdown of Russian forces.
Russian-backed separatist forces renewed coordinated offensive operations across the front line in eastern Ukraine on November 7. This escalation follows a two-month operational pause that coincided with the start of the Russian intervention in Syria. Both the separatist ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR) and the Ukrainian military reported the completion of the withdrawal of light artillery from the front line in the days leading up to the recent clashes.
Russia continued to shape conditions on the ground in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East following the air safety memorandum of understanding signed with the U.S. on October 20, 2015.