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16.07.2015

Ekaterina Shvidchenko, Russia and NATO relations in the context of the “Ukrainian crisis”

Ekaterina Shvidchenko, 
graduate of the Volgograd State University, 
Bachelor of the International Relations 


Russia and NATO relations in the context of the Ukrainian crisis

Today Europe’s security is being tested to its full limits. The key issue is the “Ukrainian crisis”, which is a symptom from the prolonged turmoil in the relations between Russia and NATO. Before finding a solution one needs to detect the real cause of the problem and this instance it is the hardest step, because the two parties have different views on the same situation. For example, Moscow calls it a civil war in Ukraine, while Brussels treats it as the Russia’s invasion of a sovereign state and a direct threat to neighboring Europe.

According to the Founding Act on Mutual Relations from 1997, NATO and Russia “do not consider each other as adversaries” and adhere to the principle that “the security of all states in the Euro-Atlantic community is indivisible”.[1] How then these agreements have made it possible for a situation to arise that is comparable to the Cold War? The history of Russia-NATO relations can help us to understand the causes of the current situation. To begin with, both parties have different views on the very method of cooperation. On the one hand, Russia has always insisted on equal partnership rights and a special attitude, demanding the right to vote in all important matters. On the other hand, NATO has always believed that a conventional partnership on an equal basis with other countries would be enough, but still has made concessions to Moscow. These concessions are embodied in the creation of the NATO-Russia Council that offered “such a privileged relationship with NATO” that no other country has ever had.[2]

Secondly, the Alliance expansion to the east has always been a stumbling block. For NATO it is a natural process of voluntary association based on a country’s free will to join in order to strengthen Euro-Atlantic stability and security. For Russia any further NATO expansion towards its borders is a direct threat its security, which is reflected in the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation from 2010.[3] This was even more strongly emphasized in a new version of the Military Doctrine from 2014 where any increase of NATO power is considered to be a main external military threat.[4] For a long time Moscow has been concerned about the missile shield deployment in its neighboring European countries and NATO's refusal to legislate their non directionality against Russia. What is more, all of the former USSR countries are included in Russia's major geopolitical and economic interests, so it is especially sensitive about any loss of influence in that region.

The listed fundamental contradictions in Russia-NATO relations reappeared when Ukraine was faced with the hard choice of self-determination: either to be with the West or with Russia. It seems that the two parties have different views on the "Ukrainian crisis" in all aspects. Thus, for the Russian side the Ukrainian Euromaidan in 2013 was an anti-government protest, while in the Western countries it was treated as a movement for democratic values; the subsequent change of the government has been recognized by NATO-members, but Russia regards it as a coup d'etat.

The worldview of the Crimean referendum has already been reflected in the following formulations: for some it is the annexation of the Crimean peninsula, however, for others it is the reunification with the motherland. On the one side NATO considers it to be an “illegal and unlawful” act, and demands from Russia to “stop the occupation of the Crimea”.[5] But on the other side Russia refers to the will of the Crimean residents and denies that it is a violation of international law. Moreover, Moscow accuses the Western countries of interfering with the internal affairs of Ukraine. While explaining the reasons for the Crimean annexation, Vladimir Putin spoke about the threat of the NATO forces emergence on the Russian southern borders: “We are against the fact that there is a bossy military organization being situated near our fence, next to our house or our historical territories”.[6] Russia continues to deny everything and demands that NATO provide real evidence. Moreover, the lack of objective information and its constant distortion for the purpose of “demonizing” the enemy only increases the tensions between Russia-NATO relations.

After the conflict escalation in Donbas, Russia has sent a series of humanitarian convoys to the breakaway republics population, but not all of them were inspected by the Ukrainian side and the International Committee of the Red Cross. This gave NATO a handle to accuse Moscow of using the so-called humanitarian operations as a cover for military intervention in Ukraine and demand Russia to “withdraw its troops, halt the flow of weapons, equipment, people and money across the border to the separatists.”[7]

But what are both parties currently doing in order to overcome these differences and mutual mistrust? The NATO and Russian representatives blame each other in their media propaganda that in turn leads to a military escalation in the region. For instance, in the Secretary General’s annual report from 2014 Russia was declared as a first level threat on the same level with the Islamic State.[8] According to the report, NATO’s funding has gradually declined since the 90s and as the Afghan campaign comes to the end there is even further reason to make more budget cuts. However, lowering the budget in the absence of enemies may be seen as a sign that the organization is losing relevance and importance. So it is logical to use Russia and ISIL to convince the NATO’s members to increase their defense expenditures thus giving the Alliance a new lease of life by justifying the expenditure of the taxpayers' money based on these new alleged threats.

The development of the current situation becomes even more unpredictable as the number of military exercises and provocations has increased since last year. The European leadership Network has devised a map of close military encounters which reflects the incidents in Europe involving Russian and Western militaries in 2014-2015.[9]

2

Note: high-risk incidents are marked with red, serious incidents are marked with yellow, near-routine are marked with blue, miscellaneous incidents are marked with green.

The ongoing mutual reproaches and reciprocal measures take the confrontation between NATO and Russia out of control. The North Atlantic Alliance started to bring its military forces to combat readiness moving them closer to the Russian borders. Thus, the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has declared the plans to deploy American military equipment in six Eastern Europe and Baltic States (namely Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria).[10] Earlier Britain and the US officially proclaimed sending non-lethal techniques and equipment for the Ukrainian army. These announcements have undoubtedly provoked an adverse response from Moscow. In retaliation, Vladimir Putin has commenced the modernization and rearmament of the Russian military forces adding more than 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles. This fact can be treated as a new “red line” in Russia-NATO relations since there have never been serious cases to argue for nuclear deterrence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the same time the current situation of an escalating arms race highly resembles that of the Cold War period.

When it comes to the situation in Ukraine it is possible to mark out several peculiarities. On the one hand, de jure Ukraine has no war status as martial law was not imposed there and the country still has diplomatic relations with Russia. On the other hand, de facto we can observe the so-called “hybrid war” which is a modern type of warfare when adversaries make use of both conventional and unconventional weapons and use overt and covert tactics such as special forces, cyber warfare, information campaigns and a backstage game by denying their involvement.[11]

The actions listed above contradict to the provisions of the Founding Act on Mutual Relations. It declares a "shared commitment to build a stable, peaceful and undivided Europe" and affirms that "NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries". Nowadays the situation is completely the opposite. In addition to that, the suspension of the NATO-Russia Council work, initiated by Brussels has added tensions to the parties' relations. And this is at a time when all efforts should be directed at strengthening dialogue at all levels, and possibly the creation of its new formats. And this happens at the time when there is an urgent need to intensify dialogue at all levels. The creation of new formats of negotiation is also required.

At the same time, one can more clearly observe the split-up within the Alliance in regard to the Russian issue. Some European countries have doubts on the sanctions effectiveness against the RF as it negatively affects their own economies and does not facilitate to the conflict settlement in Ukraine. Therefore the NATO members with the most interests in the trade restoration with Russia endeavor to use diplomacy in order to prevent a transition leading to an armed clash. Thus, the leaders of France and Germany have taken the initiative to hold negotiations with Russia and Ukraine. Unfortunately, the Minsk agreements on ceasefire, troops and heavy machinery withdrawal have almost failed, although a fragile truce is still maintained. However NATO leaders once again call upon the Western countries to enhance the pressure on Russia instead of giving it a chance to make a peaceful settlement with Ukraine.

The consequences of the “Ukrainian crisis” are formidable. In the short term, a humanitarian catastrophe threatens Ukraine. This could result in an increase in the flow of refugees, the growth of the illegal traffic of weapons and drugs, as well as radical associations’ enhancement. The armed confrontation between the separatists regions and central forces will continue due to the unrecognized status of the “DNR” and “LNR”. In addition, the violation of international law and human rights in Ukraine could become a precedent for the emergence of new tensions in Europe.

In the long term, this crisis might ensue a loss of Ukraine's sovereignty. This may happen if the country is unable to pay for its debts and gas and is engulfed by unrest resulting in the government losing its legitimacy. If NATO and Russia continue the power politics, it will lead to the exclusive militarization of the region and further Alliance extension. Random incidents can escalate into more serious armed clashes, especially at the borders. The extension of economic sanctions will reduce trade with Russia to a minimum; new restrictions in the visa regime are also possible. In fact all these measures will deplete the economy on both sides.

The forecasts described above are the worst case scenarios. As this is not what Moscow and Brussels strive for, both parties should stop acting on opposing sides. First, one needs to bolster existing mechanisms such as the "Norman Quartet", whose efforts are directed to a diplomatic “conflict freezing”. Secondly, military provocations and the media war must be stopped; sides should emphasize positive achievements to create favorable background information for negotiations. As both NATO and Russia recognize the importance of the OSCE mission, it would be desirable to extend its monitoring of the Russian-Ukrainian border to obtain more reliable information about Russia’s assistance to Donbas.

Thirdly, Brussels and Moscow should resume work of the NATO-Russia Council and join efforts on struggle against conflict consequences. Today, Ukraine spends cash loans on debt repayment and its military sector while the country remains insolvent. That is why the parties should ensure that the allocated funds are directed to the recovery of Ukraine’s economy and industry.

In fact, the “Ukrainian crisis” is just a special case and even its resolution will not eradicate the fundamental contradictions in Russia-NATO relations. Both parties not only have their own vision of the current situation, but also have different notions about the basic concepts such as security, stability and defence. For example, the Alliance considers that state has security if it has overall predominance over the enemy in military power, while Russia feels safe provided there is an absence of enemies and threats. However, security is indivisible, i.e. it is the same for all countries and the only way to maintain peace is through a joint effort – that is the main lesson that both Moscow and Brussels should learn. Albeit the Alliance is aware that the security in Europe is impossible without Russia, nevertheless it has no intentions to renew it and to resume the work of joint programs as well as the NATO-Russia Council.

One might conclude that today Russia and the NATO countries are standing at a crossroads: they should choose either to solve the problem peacefully or to get involved in a military conflict. The first option requires a strong political will and desire to compromise. The second option would cost both sides numerous casualties, unreasonable military spending and new scars in the collective memory of the European nations, who have just started to forget what war is.

 

List Internet sources in a bibliography

  1. Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014, 10.11.2014 / European leadership Network. URL: http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/dangerous-brinkmanship-close-military-encounters-between-russia-and-the-west-in-2014_2101.html
  2. Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in Paris, France, 27.05.1997 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natolive/official_texts_25468.htm
  3. Full text of the Vladimir Putin’s statement on the Crimea issue, 18.03.2014 // Russia Today. URL: http://russian.rt.com/article/24532
  4. Hybrid war – does it even exist?, 07.05.2015 // NATO Review. URL: http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/Also-in-2015/hybrid-modern-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/index.htm
  5. 5.          Moscow may be using convoy to distract from military build-up, says Nato chief  / Financial Times. URL: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/62f339c8-2c68-11e4-a0b6-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3UjOev1ET
  6. NATO’s relations with Russia, 17.06.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_50090.htm?selectedLocale=en
  7. NATO-Russia relations: facts, 12.06.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_111767.htm?selectedLocale=en
  8. The Secretary General’s annual report 2014, 30.01.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/opinions_116854.htm?selectedLocale=en
  9. U.S. to pre-position tanks, artillery in Baltics, eastern Europe, 23.06.2015 // Reuters. URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-usa-europe-defense-idUSKBN0P315620150623
  10. Военная доктрина Российской Федерации, 05.02.2010 // Presidential Executive Office. URL: http://kremlin.ru/supplement/461
  11. Военная доктрина Российской Федерации, 19.12.2014 // Presidential Executive Office. URL: http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf
  12. Гибридная война – гибридная ответная реакция? / Вестник НАТО // URL:http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/Russia-Ukraine-Nato-crisis/Russia-Ukraine-crisis-war/RU/index.htm
  13. Отношения НАТО с Россией, 31.10.2014 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_50090.htm?


[1] Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation signed in Paris, France, 27.05.1997 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natolive/official_texts_25468.htm

[2] NATO-Russia relations: facts, 12.06.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_111767.htm?selectedLocale=en

[3] Военная доктрина Российской Федерации, 05.02.2010 // Presidential Executive Office. URL: http://kremlin.ru/supplement/461

[4] Военная доктрина Российской Федерации, 19.12.2014 // Presidential Executive Office. URL: http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf

[5] Отношения НАТО с Россией, 31.10.2014 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_50090.htm?

[6] Full text of the Vladimir Putin’s statement on the Crimea issue, 18.03.2014 // Russia Today. URL: http://russian.rt.com/article/24532

[7] NATO’s relations with Russia, 17.06.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/topics_50090.htm?selectedLocale=en ; Moscow may be using convoy to distract from military build-up, says Nato chief  / Financial Times. URL: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/62f339c8-2c68-11e4-a0b6-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3UjOev1ET

[8]The Secretary General’s annual report 2014, 30.01.2015 // NATO. URL: http://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/opinions_116854.htm?selectedLocale=en

[9] Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014, 10.11.2014 / European leadership Network. URL: http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/dangerous-brinkmanship-close-military-encounters-between-russia-and-the-west-in-2014_2101.html

[10] U.S. to pre-position tanks, artillery in Baltics, eastern Europe, 23.06.2015 // Reuters. URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-usa-europe-defense-idUSKBN0P315620150623

[11] Hybrid war – does it even exist?, 07.05.2015 // NATO Review. URL: http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/Also-in-2015/hybrid-modern-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/index.htm ; Гибридная война – гибридная ответная реакция? / Вестник НАТО // URL:http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2014/Russia-Ukraine-Nato-crisis/Russia-Ukraine-crisis-war/RU/index.htm

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