Ukraine crisis: What it means for NATO and Russia

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. One year after the annexation of Crimea what would you say Russia won, if anything, from the military and defense point of view?

2. What kind of lesson, if any, has NATO learned in your opinion?

Answers:

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

1. From a military and defense point of view, Russia has gained very little. Indeed, it’s arguable that Russia has committed a strategic blunder, the costs of which will be realized over not months but years and perhaps a decade or longer. In invading Ukraine, Russia has unified Ukrainians like few other crises probably could have. There are still significant domestic political, economic, and social problems facing the Ukrainian leadership in Kyiv, but Putin’s decision has pushed Ukraine closer to the west. Gradually, this is creating a security dilemma inimical to Russia’s interests. We see evidence of this even now in how Ukraine is turning increasingly to NATO and of course the EU for its military and economic security concerns — for example, seeking military training from NATO member states, and signing an association agreement with the EU. Essentially, Russia has sown in Ukraine the seeds of enmity that will be reaped for some time to come.

The lone caveat here — the ‘very little’ noted in the first sentence above — is in the gains Russia has realized in the Black Sea. With the annexation of Crimea, Russia has essentially obviated the limits on its Black Sea fleet based at Sevastopol. With an expanded naval presence in the Black Sea, Russia gains geopolitical influence. However, it remains to be seen how Turkey, Romania, and even Bulgaria may balance against this growing Russian naval influence there.

2. The lessons for NATO are very clear. The alliance has learned that security in Europe is not preordained or carved in stone. Indeed, the entire geopolitical security situation in Europe has been upended. NATO is slowly realizing that it is not truly prepared for a crisis of this sort — its European members states have spent the decade or more training and structuring their military forces for counterterrorism and/or stability operations, while necessarily letting its large-scale maneuver warfare capabilities atrophy somewhat.

What practical outcomes result from these lessons remains to be seen. Clearly, the alliance realizes it must increase readiness for hybrid conflicts, strengthening its maneuver warfare capabilities in particular — hence, the Readiness Action Plan, which includes the key VJTF initiative as well as the large-scale, high-visibility exercise to occur in 2015 (and then every three years thereafter). However, readiness — as well as increased investments in interoperable equipment most useful for maneuver warfare (such as armor, artillery, and combat aviation) — requires increased funding. Here, the evidence is mixed — some allies have gotten the message and are increasing defense spending, largely as a result of the crisis created by Putin. Others have yet to follow suit.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

1. Russia has won nothing, at the root of much average Russian’s desire is to be seen in the world with respect – Vladimir Putin has turned them into a pariah state, isolated from the world, ravaged by capital flight, hurt by sanctions, and no longer seen as a trustworthy state. The annexation of Crimea and the actions across eastern Ukraine have contributed to this of course, but already Putin’s consolidation of power, undermining freedom and human rights at home, had damaged his country’s image which they worked so hard to build at the Sochi Olympics. In military and strategic terms Russia gained Crimea – but it already effectively had that with its base operations there – and if the goal was to influence future Ukrainian politics with its strategy in the east, taking millions of pro-Russian voters in Crimea in Ukrainian elections was not the smartest of moves even if thinking in terms of Russian strategy and goals. So Russia has made tactical gains in eastern Ukraine, which was a given relative to vital interests and the balance of power. But in strategic terms, Putin’s actions have been a massive self-defeat for his own people.

2. NATO collectively has been very wise not to take Putin’s bait, and over-react with military escalation – such as allies arming Ukraine and over-deploying into Eastern Europe. But NATO has taken very important symbolic steps to reassure new members at the same time. Most crucially, as the United States continues with it’s pivot to Asia, we see much more assertive and effective leadership among European leaders – on the diplomatic and economic end with France and Germany, and also we see it in the military thinking with the new NATO spearhead force being made up mainly of Europeans. This is the right model to build on. Meanwhile, no one should expect major new spending in defense, given that the Eurozone concerns remain the biggest strategic challenge for Europe today – but European can do and should do much more to pool existing resources, backstopped by the United States. It is also fair to say the various arguments for increasing defense spending for expeditionary operations outside of Europe will have less salience, especially as Afghanistan winds down as the allies rethink the dynamic between presence and capabilities for peacetime collective defense scenarios in Europe. NATO had become overstretched, under-resourced, and strategically in doubt. Of course there are now existential questions about whether states would really risk war with a nuclear nation over the Baltics, but that is not a new political and strategic challenge for the alliance, and given the relative threats at this stage, the response has been appropriately calibrated, and careful care given to the fact that consensus in the alliance is what gives it power – breaking that apart, for example with over-deployments in the Baltics, or arming Ukraine, would only play into Putin’s narrative. NATO has gotten this right.

Maksym BugriyResearch Fellow, International Centre for Defence and Security

1. I said this a year ago in a commentary for a Russian think tank and I also believe now that Vladimir Putin’s administration generally had lost strategically having annexed Crimea. This includes both a political and I believe also a defense aspect. One could argue, of course that the Crimean operation was motivated by seeming inconvenience in renting Sevastopol base from West-leaning and thus strategically unreliable neighbor Ukraine. Yet, was the NATO threat in place at that time? While presently, Russia turned itself into NATO’s adversary and finds itself in a more vulnerable position with Crimea than previously without it. A an example, Russian militarization of Crimea confronts the US forward presence, which by far exceeds the economic and military power Russia has.

Furthermore, Russia just helps to build NATO cohesion, when different allies’ navies, including as Turkey, France, Romania and the US work cooperatively as in recent NATO Black Sea drills. On top of that, Putin’s administration created a situation for Russia, where it has the allies only on paper, but not in the reality. Its is seemingly trying to breach Western cohesion by announcing deals with Cyprus, or Turkey, some of which sound more like information propaganda, or the readiness to accept some subsidies from Russia, but they are not that realistic.

2. NATO seems strategically to be in business again and seems to be relevant for the European security. While for example in 2010, it was pulling together its efforts to build Smart Defence, while some member states were decreasing their defence spending. Perhaps the greatest lesson for NATO was the necessity to increase and maintain readiness. While not all the lessons were learned thus far. According to the IISS 2015 Military Spending book, in 2014, “in real terms European defense outlays continued the downward trajectory, seen since the 2008 crisis, though the year-on-year decline of 1.75% was slightly less than the 2% per annum average decline in real European spending seen since 2010” (p.61).

Another area of concern is related to NATO countering subversive threats, for example against its Baltic members, when the crisis in a certain country might be beyond the threshold of the Article Five. Yet another lesson is the need to have a strategy towards Russia and non-allied, but West-aspiring states, such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Russian authorities use the Cold-War style nuclear deterrence arguments and they are virtually strategically downshifting, placing themselves on the same board as not even Iran, but North Korea.

Regarding Ukraine, it is the most important for both NATO and the EU to demonstrate its posture of important provider of common security in wider Europe. Any event of Russia’s substantial further military move against Ukraine, or any other EU neighborhood country is a direct security threat for the entire Europe as the war would definitely have spillover effect. Nevertheless, there are many diplomatic possibilities still open and I am generally more optimistic generally about the situation outlook.

Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

1. Clearly, the biggest victory was the painless and remarkably swift seizure of Crimea. To a great extent the whole operation validated defence reforms initiated after the poorly planned and conducted operation in Georgia in 2008. However, there is a backside to that, which emerged from August onwards as it turned out that Russia is unable to sustain a medium-intensity, high-tempo, conventional campaign. However, as far as the airborne forces goes, operations in Crimea and Donbas clearly showed what the difference is between conscripts and professional soldiers.

The second benefit relates to the foothold Moscow has gotten in Ukraine and how it can leverage its position vis-à-vis Kiev and influence decision making processes within Ukraine.

Russian aircraft overflights over Europe also gave Russia an excuse to spy on NATO’s capabilities, radar positions and test response times.

There is not much I can say about this to be honest. The Russian forces are presently suffering from a number of problems, the land forces are weak, do not have appropriate reserves, sustainment is a massive problem. This is not a modern fighting force. To their luck, Ukraine is in a much, much worse state.

2. The most important lesson for NATO is the realisation that Russia is not a partner and should be thus seen as a military threat. This will hopefully translate into increased defence spending among countries in Western Europe. The Baltic States have already responded to this change in threat perception by inflating defence expenditure and number of exercises they are conducting at the moment.

Increased number of drills with other NATO countries should also improve interoperability levels as well as capacity to conduct joint operations. More importantly though, the fact that the Alliance has increased its presence Eastern Europe is a massive win for these countries, which have been calling for such deployment for years.

This should also translate into an easier access to US-made hardware. Poland could be potentially interested in Tomahawk missiles and is obtaining JASSMs in a move to enhance deterrent capability. Thanks to Ukraine procurement of such hardware will take months instead of years.

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