Analyzing the Military and Strategic Consequences of the Russian Annexation of Crimea


2014-04-18 Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the best sources of good analysis of the impact of the Russian annexation of Crimea on European and global affairs is the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW).

A number of recent analyses are recommended to further understanding of the dynamics of change unleashed by the Russian mapmakers.

The German reaction to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict – shock and disbelief

In a piece by  Anna Kwiatkowska-Drożdż and Konrad Popławski published on 4/3/14 the authors analyze the German reaction and its consequences.

The crisis in Ukraine and the Russian intervention have brought about a situation in which it is necessary for Germany to make decisions and take action. No one in Berlin was prepared for this nor did anyone want this to occur….

The authors describe the deep divide in Germany on the way forward, and although they do not say this, given the central role Germany plays in Europe and NATO, an ability to clearly deal with Russia firmly on Ukraine opens up even greater fissures in dealing with Russian map rewriting tendencies elsewhere.

The Putin doctrine: The formation of a conceptual framework for Russian dominance in the post-Soviet area

In a piece by Marek Menkiszak published on 3/27/14, the author describes and analyzes the emergent conceptual framework guiding Putin’s foreign and defense policies.

This (Putin) doctrine is effectively an outline of the conceptual foundation for Russian dominance in the post-Soviet area.

It offers a justification for the efforts to restore the unity of the ‘Russian nation’ (or more broadly, the Russian-speaking community), within a bloc pursuing close integration (the Eurasian Economic Union), or even within a single state encompassing at least parts of that area.

As such, it poses a challenge for the West, which Moscow sees as the main opponent of Russia’s plans to build a new order in Europe (Eurasia) that would undermine the post-Cold War order.

Ukraine closer to losing the eastern part of the country

In a piece by Wojciech Konończuk published on 4/16/14, the author looks at the continuing collapse of the Ukraine.  The seizure of Crimea is not the end point to the crisis.  The instability within Ukraine is a key reality shaping what might happen next in European security.

In recent days separatists have taken control of government buildings and police in several cities of the Donetsk region; in at least two of them (Sloviansk and Kramatorsk), the separatists have been backed by armed forces of the Russian Spetsnaz without insignia. In almost all these places, the separatists’ actions have been accompanied by either passivity or the open support of the local police, and acceptance on the part of the residents. In response, on 13 April the government in Kyiv decided to take action using limited force in Sloviansk, but this action ended in failure, and after a few hours the Ukrainian forces were withdrawn. A small-scale action on 15 April did lead to the recovery of Kramatorsk airport by Ukrainian forces.

The separatists’ actions in eastern Ukraine were clearly professionally prepared and carried out as a special operation. In addition to support from Russia, another key factor determining the separatists’ success so far has been the support of a significant part of the local power elite, including some oligarchs, the structures of the Party of Regions and the Communists, as well as members of Viktor Yanukovych’s family, who in recent weeks have earmarked substantial funds to destabilise the situation in the eastern regions.

The government in Kyiv announced a counter-terrorism operation and the involvement of the army, but have refrained from using the latter on a larger scale. On the one hand, the centre’s indecision and lack of effective action is the result of a lack of consensus within the ruling elite on how to solve the crisis, and on the other hand results from pressure from the EU and the US on the Ukrainian authorities not to escalate the situation, i.e. by the use of armed force.

Although Kyiv has still not fully lost control of the situation in the eastern part of the country, in the next few days the separatists are likely to extend their activities to other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. Russia’s idea is to put pressure on both the West and the Ukrainian government to adopt its conditions for resolving the crisis (including the adoption of federalism) – a crisis which has been artificially created by some local elites, and by Russia itself.

Pro-Russian ‘separatism’: a tool to compel Ukraine to federalization

In a piece written by Tadeusz Iwański and Marek Menkiszak published on 4/9/14, the authors look at how the Russians are working internal pressures in Ukraine to expand their power position.

On 6 April groups of pro-Russian activists held demonstrations in Donetsk, Kharkov and Lugansk, which ended with the seizure of government buildings.

These demonstrations were no more numerous than those of the previous few weeks (numbering from a few hundred to two thousand attendees), but this time the protesters encountered almost no resistance from security forces.

The separatists in each region appointed a “new political representation” which was supposed to prepare to hold a ‘referendum’ on self-determination.

The Ukrainian government has accused Moscow of provoking the events in the eastern regions of the country.

For its part, Russia urged Kyiv not to use force against the separatists, and stressed the need for international talks on a new constitutional system for Ukraine.

The result of this was Ukraine’s agreement to hold joint negotiations next week with Russia, together with the EU and US.

The government in Kyiv has managed to clear some of the occupied buildings, by the use of force in Kharkov, and as a result of negotiations in Lugansk and Donetsk, but they still have no control over the situation in the latter two cities, and the situation is still very tense there.

All indications are that the events in eastern Ukraine are part of the implementation of a scenario prepared in Moscow, the aim of which is to prevent the presidential elections being held on 25 May, and to force the federalisation of Ukraine by granting significant autonomy to the eastern and southern regions.

The events of recent days would not have been possible without Russian support for the weak separatist forces in the region, which on their own cannot count on massive public support.

In turn, the passive attitude of the police indicates that the government in Kyiv is not able to fully control the regional police forces, and that some of the local elites are playing their own political games against Kyiv.

Putin challenges Brussels to a gas duel

And in a reminder to Westerners who have really avoided opportunities to expand Western energy independence, Szymon Kardaś in an article published on 4/16/14 analyzes the Putin approach to putting the screws to Europe.  Something that will only be enhanced as he expands Russian reach in the Arctic.

On 10 April, President Vladimir Putin sent a letter to 18 European countries (recipients of Russian gas transported via Ukrainian territory), in which he called for urgent consultations with Russia on the crisis in the Ukrainian economy and the security of gas transit through Ukraine. However, he threatened that the lack of a positive response would force Russia – in  compliance with the gas contract signed in 2009 – to introduce a prepayment system for gas deliveries to Ukraine which, if Kyiv cannot meet them, may result in interruptions in gas supplies to European customers (as, according to Vladimir Putin, Ukraine could siphon off gas assigned to importers in Europe for itself).

The Kremlin’s diplomatic gambit is not only a propaganda gesture. Russia is also trying to take advantage of the crisis to implement the key objectives of its gas policy regarding Ukraine: to take control over that country’s gas infrastructure and maintain its position as the dominant gas supplier. It is possible that in the face of the problems in EU/Russian gas relations which have built up over recent years (such as the implementation of the Third Energy Package, and the European Commission’s antitrust proceedings against Gazprom), Russia intends to use the Ukrainian crisis as an instrument to force the EU into strategic concessions which would lead to a substantial revision of EU/Russian energy cooperation. Although Putin’s letter does not prejudge the suspension of gas supplies to Ukraine, it is very likely that Russia will not hesitate to do so if the European partners prove unwilling, at least partially, to take Russia’s demands into account.

Editor’s Note: The counter-reaction to the Russian seizure of Crimea is of course the focus of Russian propaganda, but not in the old Soviet style, but in a 21st century lighter style.

For example, Sweden has been meeting with its Nordic partners to work on Baltic security and such an effort, of course, is not necessary because, well just because.

Set to the music of Abba, this Russian parody reminds the Swedes that they are weak militarily because their defense minister wears a skirt (Just making fun of course!)

For related pieces on the resurgence of Russia see the following: