Crimea, Europe and the Russian Resurgence


2014-03-19 By Robbin Laird

Harald Malmgren has recently underscored that any focus on the Crimea without looking at the global context makes no strategic sense.

And indeed, the day to day focus on events the days before is exactly what leads to missing the context of what the Crimean dynamic is really all about or the strategic impact of Crimea being returned to Russia.

WE and European leaders found themselves at an impasse, unable to alter the loss of Crimea to Russia, or reduce the threat of further fragmentation of the predominantly Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine population.

The March 2014 political and media obsession with the Ukraine and Crimea distracted attention from the historic consequences of such a clash between Russia and the West.

One must remember that Soviet leader Khrushchev handed Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 as part of his re-set of Stalin’s policies.

Putin has reversed the “gifting” of Crimea to Ukraine.

A number of key dynamics are highlighted by Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Western responses, which suggest a significant turning point in 21st century history.

The first turning point is the conjunction of Russian actions in Syria, with Crimea with Cyprus.

With regard to Syria, the port in Syria has been of interest to Soviets and Russians for a long time.  It is clearly a key element shaping Russian policy in Syria.  Added to this is the crucial addition of the Crimean ports which will allow Russia to redesign how it will use the port, now that is free of constraints of dealing with a foreign government in using “its” ports.

And certainly, the rebuilding of the Russian tactical nuclear arsenal could bring these “forgotten” weapons back into play into a region where the nuclear dynamic is being reworked.

And then there is Cyprus, which is part of the “redrawing” of the map via the Euro crisis.  The Russians are working the debt problems of Cyprus in exchange for many things but clearly there is a desire to use Cypriat facilities, including naval facilities.

It is certainly not a stretch to imagine the Russian navy and air force leveraging the new situation to better position itself in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. 

And working to manage forces operating throughout the region is a useful input as well to working the expanse of their Arctic forces and preparing for management of East and West AORs for the Russians at the top of the world.

"We are planning to build 15 frigates and diesel-electric submarines for the Black Sea Fleet by 2020," Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said in June 2013. Apparently, the Russians are not going the LCS route.
“We are planning to build 15 frigates and diesel-electric submarines for the Black Sea Fleet by 2020,” Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said in June 2013. Apparently, the Russians are not going the LCS route.

Earlier, Malmgren and I suggested that the Euro crisis would lead to the redrawing of the map of Europe.

The Russians are engaging in the process of re-set of the European map.  This is the only re-set going on.

The second turning point is with regard to Germany.

The Germans provided an important input to Putin’s actions.

When a senior German minister clearly indicated that Ukraine was within the Russian economic zone, and not an imminent part of the European Union, Putin could read the tea leaves.

Let me be blunt: the Germans gave Putin the green light.

As Valentina Pop wrote in an EU Observer piece on Germany and the Eastern Partnership in January 2014:

The EU was wrong not to have analyzed possible conflicts with Russia before offering the so-called Eastern Partnership to countries like Ukraine, Gernot Erler, Germany’s new chief of relations with Russia and the eastern neighborhood told journalists in Berlin on Thursday (30 January). 

Barely a day in his new job, he said that being labeled as “someone who understands Russia” does not offend him. 

Unlike his predecessor, Andreas Schockenhoff, who did not shy away from harshly criticizing the Kremlin on human rights, Erler says it is important to take into account Moscow’s concerns – be they legitimate or not – about the West.

His appointment was a concession made by Chancellor Angela Merkel to her Social-Democratic coalition partners, who claimed the foreign ministry in the coalition government. 

Erler, who will turn 70 this year, is a fluent Russian speaker and is seen favorably in Moscow.  A close ally of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier – himself a Russophile – Erler was the mastermind behind the idea of a “modernization partnership” with Russia, or, seeking democratization through increased economic ties…..

Germany has been part of the problem not the solution.

But how might Germany be part of the solution to the Russian efforts?

Germany could provide two significant contributions.

First, Germany could lead the effort to move away from dependence on Russian energy exports.  This would require rethinking energy policy in a major way and including strategic considerations to their rightful place over politically correct environmental policies.

Second, Germany can make a significant military contribution.

By reinforcing the defense of the Baltic states, and Poland, Germany could work with other European states to bring about the European defense effort in a meaningful effort.  By working air and missile defense assets in the defense of Poland and the Baltic states, a serious line in the sand would be drawn before Putin’s appetite grows, and his disdain for Western sanctions of “individuals” in Russia convinces himself that this is all there is to Western will.

This does not require the United States. 

The United States could help but only if a fundamental turn of events were to happen.  This would start with working rapidly on energizing US strategic policy by getting projects like the Keystone pipeline going.  Contributing to a Western policy of energy disengagement with Russia is probably the only economic effort that would matter to Putin, not meaningless sanctions.

And as Malmgren has noted, given the dependence on Russian banks for several Western states, sanctions are bound to hurt in multiple ways which have nothing to do with Putin’s calculus.

Focusing on “Cold War” weapons like the F-22 and missile defense and funding abilities to integrate the two would also matter.  The US would actually be bringing new capabilities to the defense of Poland and the Baltics.  And ending a delusional EU and NATO expansion policy is crucial as well.  Include only a state, which you are prepared to defend as if it were your own.

What exactly would NATO have done if Ukraine HAD BEEN in NATO?

Ending delusional sidebar maneuvers on sanctions, and shaping a strategic re-set that would affect Russian behavior is the only way to meet real Western intersts in the period ahead.  Putin is counting on this not happening, and as Malmgren has noted there are other key players out there who will see significant maneuvering room for their ambitions if a realistic and forward leaning response is necessary.

We do not need to see the 1980 boycott of the Olympics repeated with the same level of predictable success.

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