Russia, Crimea and Leverage: An Impact on Afghan Withdrawal?


2014-04-07 Clearly, Putin made his move in Crimea due to circumstances in Ukraine as a whole.  The upheaval in Ukraine provided an opportunity to ensure that the Russian base in Ukraine could be secured within Russian national territory.

And with a play in Cyprus and Syria consolidating their position in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea port can be a springboard to broader influence and capabilities in the region. 

And naval modernization is a key part of the Russian upgrade for their military.  Last year, the Russians announced their intention to modernize the fleet, but the Ukraine was hovering over its legal right to veto or attenuate the modernization.

According to a Novosti piece published on February 23, 2013:

Russia has announced plans to rearm its Black Sea Fleet and has asked Ukraine to settle the issues regarding the planned deliveries of new weapons to the naval force, Ukraine’s defense minister said on Saturday.

“Russia’s desire is understandable – technology is moving ahead, and the desire to rearm its fleet is fair. That is why it is necessary to solve all the issues at the legislative level, taking the interests of Ukraine as a non-aligned country into account,” Pavlo Lebedev was quoted by the ministry’s press service as saying.

However, Lebedev said customs formalities are not within his ministry’s jurisdiction and therefore the documents concerning the planned arms deliveries will be sent to the Tax and Income Ministry and the Finance Ministry.

The bulk of the Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed at the port of Sevastopol in Crimea under a lease agreement with Ukraine. Moscow and Kiev signed the so-called Kharkiv Agreements on April 21, 2010, extending the fleet’s lease on the base for another 25 years after the current lease expires in 2017.

The sides have yet to agree on the fleet rearmament, taxable supply and the usage of Sevastopol’s docks.

Now there are not two sides; but it is up to Russia with regard to modernization of their own fleet in their own port on their own territory.

Afghan Withdrawal Routes. Credit: Russia Direct
Afghan Withdrawal Routes. Credit: Russia Direct 

This is an important launch point into the Mediterranean and as such modernization of the fleet will be part of the dynamics of change in the region.

Another consideration is the possible counter-reaction of the Russians to Western sanctions.

As Alexey Feneko commented in a recent Russia Direct piece, the Russians clearly have options to respond, and to do so with an impact.

None more so than directly impacting on the US Administration’s planned exit strategy from Afghanistan.  With the Afghan government in the throes of pressuring the US out, the challenge will be get the vast amount of military equipment OUT of Afghanistan.

If the Russians wish to put the hammer down, this could become more difficult, more costly, and has the potential to see a stockpile of US war materiel to remain behind in Afghanistan.

According to Feneko:

The first victim of serious Russian sanctions will be the transit of NATO supplies to Afghanistan — not only by land, but by air, too.

The Russian route is extremely important for the alliance as an alternative to the vulnerable Pakistani corridor.

The northern transit route is becoming increasingly critical ahead of the forthcoming withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan this year.

Russia may denounce the 2008-09 agreements with NATO, closing off its air and land space to Brussels.

In addition, Moscow may begin to exert stronger influence over the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which, in addition to Russia, includes Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Belarus, encouraging them to reduce cooperation with NATO on Afghanistan.

The problem facing the US is well laid out in the map which was included in the article as well.

This is not the Cold War, but clearly part of a 21st century process of redefining the global power balance.