February's key risks relate to the likelihood of Ukraine's foreign policy turning towards Russia - under the auspices of the end of the war, steps by the Ukrainian authorities could lead to the Kremlin's trap. Against the background of Putin's desire and his entourage to destroy Ukrainian statehood.
The most significant event took place on February 11, when President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed the chairman of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andrii Bohdan, and appointed Andrei Ermak as his assistant. Political scientists immediately announced that the new head of the President's Office has concentrated in his hands a remarkable hardware power, and probably will combine a powerful influence on internal politics with the leadership of all foreign policy activities of Ukraine. Is it a negative factor against the backdrop of many centers of influence within the state that, moreover, could not reach consensus in the most sensitive areas of the security industry? Unlikely. However, it does have the risks of certain "biases" and "rolls" that always occur in the absence of a deterrent system.
It is not difficult to predict that the main direction for the power team remains the "Moscow" and the course to end (even, freeze) the Russian war - this should offset all the existing shortcomings of work and risks for the current team in power.
Massive media reports: The new head of the President's Office, Andriy Yermak, is regularly in touch with the new Kremlin's "curator on Ukraine," Dmitry Kozak, and does not use official diplomatic channels. One last remark is quite remarkable. As Moscow has managed to conduct a thematic operation to probe Kyiv's attitude towards steps towards official rapprochement - through the exchange of ambassadors. However, when he met a very negative reaction, the Kremlin immediately "gave back". By the mouth of the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov, that, they say, the readiness to exchange ambassadors is declared by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov. It should be recalled that Kiev and Moscow withdrew their ambassadors in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea and the start of hostilities in the Donbass. Ukraine dismissed Russia's ambassador to Russia, Vladimir Yelchenko, in December 2015, and Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, in July 2016. The same is true of the Kremlin's cautious promotion of an extremely dangerous for Ukraine and far from new idea in the scenario of seizure of power - through "reconciliation".
On February 13, a new intrigue appeared in the media - the assumption of journalists of the Scheme: Corruption in Detail program that during his unofficial visit and a scandalous holiday in Oman, President Zelensky could meet with Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Mykola Patrushev. In the absence of such a meeting, the situation looks like a rather powerful new special operation aimed at a plan that is considered the most effective in the Kremlin - to kill a wedge between the authorities and society. If it turns out that Zelensky's meeting with Patrushev was the same, then this split strategy will be even easier to implement - a call of distrust to the power, which "behind the back of society" agrees with the leadership of the hostile state.
Thus, in February, the use of information drives and the speed of their interpretation becomes more critical. Effective work with critical information, the generation of various standards not only takes away from society the opportunity to "digest" information and respond, but also creates unique manipulative levers.
Many experts and observers after A. Ermak's appointment have indicated that it fits first in Russia. However, few have pointed out that the next (though probably deeper) stage of Russian-US rivalry is unfolding in Ukraine. For example, the Kremlin hints at such irritants as the "irreversible movement of Ukraine to NATO" and the "determination of Russia as an enemy" (a draft of a new National Security Strategy, which must be approved soon). Even the pro-NATO rhetoric of Ukrainian officials is annoying for the Kremlin. In particular, CDAR sources at the OPU know that this factor was taken into account when considering candidates for ministerial positions for the renewed government and top officials.
But on the other hand, just a few days before the appointment of the OPU leader, it was Presidential Assistant Ermak who announced Zelensky's "historic visit" to the US. He added that relations between Ukraine and the USA are taking a new level. Also, it is possible that Kiev was involved in a rather risky political game, especially dangerous, given the real possibility of electing unpredictable Trump in the US for the second term of the presidency.
Also, the continuation of negotiations with Moscow and Washington and their results are the number one challenge for the near future. And it is these positions, regardless of the events on the real eastern front, that will form the agenda of President Zelensky's team.
Risks for Ukraine in the International Arena
The likelihood of President Zelensky's team making concessions to the Kremlin has yet to be confirmed by anything but the assumptions of opposition political forces. However, risks are compounded by the traditional vulnerability of the Ukrainian authorities to take into account the influences of powerful players in the world arena. The most potentially dangerous steps of the Ukrainian authorities are to accelerate elections in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions this fall and the amnesty of militants with the inevitable de facto legalization of separatist movements now occupied by the now occupied territories is unclear.
Against this background, the "second coming" of the current White House host, Donald Trump, may pose many problems for Ukraine, including critical and existential ones for statehood. In this context, much will depend on the ability of Ukrainian politicians, diplomats and special services to use international mechanisms, including the stands of international organizations, international courts, and the formation of positions of power structures in European countries.
Sanctions against Russia continue. The sanctions policy of Europe is still maintained, even against the background of the loss of Ukrainian interests in the PACE. Namely, the European Union will not lift economic sanctions from Russia until progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements. EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Negotiations for Enlargement Oliver Vargey said this on February 13th.
"Without changing Russia's behavior, the issue of sanctions should not be revised," Czech Foreign Minister Petricek said on February 13. Given that the Russian special services have long used the Czech Republic as a staging ground for attacking Ukraine, this is a positive message from Prague.
On February 13, it was also learned that Washington had imposed new sanctions on Moscow. The reason for this decision was the law on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. According to the US State Department's report in the Federal Register, three Russian arms organizations have come under new restrictions. It is noted that the actions of these companies violate US national law regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction against Iran, the DPRK and Syria. The decision to apply the restrictions came into force on February 3. Significantly, a number of Chinese companies have been blacklisted.
Earlier, on February 4, the United Kingdom upheld the sovereignty of Ukraine and the aspirations of its President Volodymyr Zelensky for reforms in the country. Among other things, British Foreign Ministry chief Chris Pincher said in parliament: "We are pursuing a strong sanction policy against Russia for its attacks on Ukraine's sovereignty."
Russian-Belarusian node. In favor of Kiev and aggravation of rhetoric between Moscow and Minsk. Belarus is in this context the same victim as Ukraine. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent visit to Minsk and his talks with the President of Belarus have provoked a wave of openly anti-Belarussian publications in Russian and pro-Russian media and networks (for example, in telegram channels). Information industry experts say that the Kremlin's powerful campaign in the Internet space, under certain conditions, could be a prologue to the next stage of Moscow's hybrid war against Minsk. Belarus itself says that because of the delayed signing of the agreement on the creation of the Union State, Belarus is subject to considerable blackmail by Russia.
Ukrainian-Turkish potential. During a visit to Kiev in early February, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the Russian president's actions in Syria. In particular, during a meeting with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Turkey spoke negatively about Russia's unwillingness to prevent Damascus from conducting operations in the Syrian province of Idlib, which led to a massive "escape" of refugees. In this regard, experts suggest that Erdogan is able to turn into a parliamentarian and mediator in future political discourse between Kiev and Moscow. In addition, Ankara can act as a universal channel of communication for the release of prisoners, especially Crimean Tatars.
At the same time, Ukraine has little use of the opportunities available, such as the expansion of the PTC, which Turkey seeks. It became known that Erdogan confessed to Zelensky that the Ukrainian side had done nothing in the area of the promised development of the Ukrainian-Turkish MTC. Although it was in the Turkish direction in the field of military-technical cooperation of Ukraine that a real breakthrough was recorded.
Progress in Security and Defense Reforms in Ukraine
Perhaps the appointment of Andrew Ermak is the foreseeable decision of the Supreme Commander, by which he will try to build a single vertical and solve, among other things, the basic problems of the development of the army and the defense. It seems President Zelensky is aware that the delay is an avalanche of risks for the future state, and the president himself.
Reviewers are convinced that a number of staff reshuffles are expected in the coming days. ODA insider information shows that 5-7 staffing ordinances have been prepared and are awaiting implementation. Although Andrei Ermak himself claims he will not be in a hurry. The main thing for the new managerial office will be the possibility to create a real playground in the OPU for the preparation and comprehensive examination of key decisions. The main question for today is whether the security and defense sector will be included in the list of priorities for the head of the OPU.
Among the key tasks of the first stage is the adoption of a new National Security Strategy of Ukraine, which should open the barrier of defense planning. Adoption of laws on defense procurement, Security Service, intelligence, creation of the Military Security Strategy of Ukraine. And most importantly, the introduction of a discussion on the development of the modern Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the following extraordinary events are taking place in Ukraine.
Private military companies are a new step for the Ukrainian authorities. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has registered a draft law "On Military Consulting Activities" which provides for the creation of private military companies that will provide certain services abroad. This could allow Ukraine to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in military consulting services every year. But most importantly, create the conditions for a mirror response of the Russian Federation in case of prolonged further aggression.
Rearmament challenges. On February 11, media reported that after receiving the air strikes of BAYRAKTAR TB2 by the Ukrainian Air Force, they were still not ready. The reason is that the unit formed under the UAVs received, has not yet acquired combat readiness and does not even carry out several training flights. In particular, the unit received the funds of a former fighter regiment disbanded twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the total amount of money needed to equip the premises was 265. They were only enough to replace the windows, doors and wiring, ceiling repair. To improve the conditions for the placement of the unit, personnel are now forced to engage in housekeeping and repair work on site instead of training. Sources indicate that the problem of using the UAVs received is very surprising to Turkish experts who are in Ukraine throughout the warranty period and service UAVs and have to train Ukrainian specialists. Another reason why Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 is not yet ready for this long is bureaucratic procedures. In particular, experts say the need for "hundreds of approvals and approvals in high offices", which slows down the process of commissioning UAVs.
The Minister of Defense of Ukraine Andriy Zagorodniuk has announced his intention to buy the new Neptune missile systems from the State-owned Concern "Ukrboronprom". “We have very interesting missile systems. Last year, we tested the Neptune rocket, which was developed at the SSCB "Ray" in Kiev. Very interesting technology that really has great potential for us, for security. The development of missile and artillery technology is a big priority for us, ”the press service quoted the Minister on February 11. This event is long-awaited and could be the start of a modern rearmament of the Armed Forces.
Director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies