Crimea crisis gives NATO a lifeline


The result of Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, following its 2008 war with Georgia, could be a modest reversal of years of European defence cuts and a bigger US military presence in the NATO members of central and eastern Europe.

For defence planners in Washington, London and Brussels, the sight of Russian forces pouring into their second neighbour in six years will overturn two decades of strategic assumptions.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Western alliance has shifted its attention to Afghanistan, Kosovo and counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, as well as Libya during its 2011 civil war. But by the time NATO government leaders meet in September in Wales, some people believe their focus will have returned to deterring Moscow.

In Washington on Wednesday for meetings with senior officials, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen accused Moscow of acting to "rip up the international rulebook, trying to redraw the map of Europe and creating... the most serious security crisis since the end of the Cold War".

"It goes to the heart of what NATO is about," he told a forum at Georgetown University.

While a major war in Europe remains extremely unlikely, it is no longer unthinkable, say officials and analysts. But finding the money for more military resources will be tough.

EU leaders are meeting today (20 March) with the crisis surrounding Ukraine eclipsing the planned agenda of the summit (see background). EU pundits have been advocating elevating the EU-NATO relation to higher levels [read more].

In the past fortnight, Washington and NATO have tried to reassure members of the alliance that were once part of the Soviet bloc, such as Poland and the Baltic states. Sending a message that NATO stands with them in any confrontation with Moscow, the United States deployed F-15 fighters to Lithuania and alliance early warning aircraft have increased patrols. While some Western governments regarded Russia's war with Georgia as a one-off, they see its annexation of Crimea as a sign of things to come.

Since 2008 European Union states have cut their military budgets by about 15%, according to a report last year from the Centre for European Reform, whereas Russia has increased its by about 30%.

While Moscow lacks its Cold War-era strength to overrun much of Europe, President Vladimir Putin seems increasingly confident in intervening in his neighbourhood.

"This requires a complete reappraisal of how we approach Russia," says Fiona Hill, U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia from 2006 to 2009, who now heads the Europe program at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Putin has made it very clear he intends to reassert Russia's sphere of influence ... We don't have a strategy to deal with that."

Putin has said Sunday's Crimean referendum, which Kiev and the West have refused to recognise, showed the overwhelming will of the people to be reunited with Russia. Moscow has also said that worries it might now move on Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine are unjustified.

Western officials and analysts say there is little NATO can do to stop Moscow in former Soviet states that are outside the alliance, such as Ukraine and Georgia, although some say NATO membership for them might come back on the agenda.

The potential flashpoint, however, is the Baltic states. These former Soviet republics are now in NATO and therefore protected by Article 5 of its treaty, which requires all members to help an ally under attack. Like Ukraine, they are home to significant Russian minorities.

"Western nations have minimised the prospect of having to reinforce our eastern allies," said one senior Western official on condition of anonymity. "At a stroke, all that has changed."

Era of wars in Europe ‘not over’

Another NATO diplomat put it more strongly.

"I think people do understand continental wars in Europe are not over," he said on condition of anonymity. "We will not be credible if we simply continue as if nothing has happened."

U.S. forces in Europe have shrunk dramatically since the Cold War. Their numbers are about 80,000, including 14,000 civilian staff, according to the U.S. military's European Command, down from just over 300,000 in the last decades of the Soviet Union.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials played down suggestions of a major shift in America's European presence following events in Crimea. Other officials and analysts, however, say a change in strategic mood is already underway.

Reversing defence cuts is likely to be a major topic of the NATO summit, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News earlier this month. Some analysts are sceptical.

"Frankly there is no appetite for increasing defence spending," said Judy Dempsey, senior associate at Carnegie Europe, noting that despite Hague's comments there were no signs of Britain reversing its defence cuts.

The most likely scenario, she said, was for countries to pool more resources and aim for greater efficiency.

Some countries such as Germany might put off planned further cuts, while U.S. force withdrawals could also cease.

Some analysts had expected the Pentagon to pull a squadron of F-15 fighters out of their base in Lakenheath, England, as it prioritises the Pacific. That now looks less likely - 10 of the squadron's aircraft are in the Baltic states.

Ultimately, some Western officials privately say Washington and perhaps others may end up with a permanent presence in Eastern Europe. That would overturn an unwritten agreement with Moscow not to base U.S. forces in former East bloc states.

Nuclear worries

In the shorter term, temporary deployments and training missions look likely to increase dramatically. "Russia is not posing a mass army threat but rather the ability to selectively use its local military advantages decisively, backed up by the threat to escalate," says Elbridge Colby, a former Pentagon official who is now at the Center for a New American Security. "The corresponding NATO response needs to be to present a deterrent to Russia's ability to pull this off against NATO members."

Last year, NATO conducted one of its largest recent exercises, "Steadfast Jazz" in Poland and Latvia, deploying its rapid response brigade in a show of force that some officials said was aimed at reassuring local states. That followed a major Russian exercise code-named "Zapad-13" in which 10,000 Russian troops fought "Baltic terrorists" in Belarus.

Nuclear weapons are also back on the agenda.

With the rhetoric rising during the Crimean crisis, a senior Kremlin-backed broadcaster made an explicit nuclear threat this week, saying Russia remained "capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash".

That could have an effect on those countries - Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey - with U.S. nuclear weapons still on their soil. This arrangement had seemed anachronistic and there had been talk of ending it. Experts say NATO faces another awkward reality with conventional weapons. In the event of simultaneous crises with Russia and China - perhaps over the Baltic states and disputed South China Sea islands respectively - Washington would probably struggle to reinforce both regions.

"The week before Russia went into Crimea, we published our defence budget and Quadrennial Defence Review," said Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College. "That accepted a risk of war with China. But not Russia." 



Kirikou's picture

The most powerful weapon against Russia is its gas. Don't import it in Europe during summer, and Russia's economy will collapse. On the other hand, Europe will not even notice lack of Russian supplies during 3 hot summer months.

Satish Chandra's picture

CIA-RAW keep deleting the following paragraph, posted as a comment, from Indian and Pakistani media putting Pakistan, Russia and India in grave danger as the March 12 ’14 explosions in New York demonstrate:-

The deaths of Rajiv and Indira did not matter, only the crimes against Satish Chandra matter. Both participated in the CIA’s crimes against me and both were killed by CIA-RAW because of my influence on them. I was the target in killing them; they themselves did not matter. Nehru was a lifelong British agent, Indira and Rajiv worked for the CIA and so do all Indian politicians and filthy criminals of the media, deserving to be machine-gunned and bulldozed into trenches, or the top dozen or so stories in the Indian media on any given day will be about Satish Chandra. To avoid being killed by CIA-RAW, Rajiv’s son now (on Feb 26 ‘14) made an incredibly stupid and treasonous statement “What superpower? I will rather make a woman safe in a bus” to show to CIA-RAW that he is NOT under my influence and will not entertain any thought of making India a superpower and will keep India poor, weak and enslaved. Narendra Modi should be whipped and hanged for giving a bouquet of roses to an American diplomat in exchange for a strip search and cavity search of an Indian diplomat. After my reference to Advani as Home Minister being forced, with the threat of being prosecuted for Babri Masjid demolition, to visit CIA headquarters and make the Home Ministry participate in the CIA’s crimes against me, CIA-RAW threatened Modi with prosecution for the killing of Muslims in 2002 and so today (Feb 27 ‘14) “Modi signals shift in favour of big retail”, that is Walmart, etc., reversing the BJP’s stand -- while acknowledging this will harm him politically -- and urging Indians to embrace foreign ownership and control of India and other BJP politicians have joined in this treasonous deal with CIA-RAW as Jaitley‘s statement today (Feb 27 ‘14) that Modi “ has been able to overcome a sustained campaign against him over the 2002 Gujarat riots“ shows; CIA-RAW dictates -- with the threat of killing in the case of Rajiv’s son and threat of prosecution in the case of Modi -- what Indian politicians do and say, not India’s or the politicians’ own interests. P. Chidambaram should be whipped and hanged for speaking positively about Harvard University where the world’s greatest scientist and greatest Indian of all time was publicly tortured for being an Indian. The Italian woman and son should be whipped and hanged for participating in crimes against him with the help of the CIA’s 24-hour satellite surveillance of him for the past 37 years. Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee should be whipped and hanged for associating with CIA-RAW agent Hazare, a follower of M. K. Gandhi who was a lifelong British agent and a homosexual who wrote to his white master “How completely you have taken possession of my body; it is slavery with a vengeance”. You do not shake hands with any representative of a country whose population will be made to eat one another till no one remains alive. Filthy niggers Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram and Raghuram Rajan made India a beggar and slave at the G-20 urging “advanced nations, like the US, to take heed of countries vulnerable to the stimulus withdrawal” and “advanced nations must recognise the impact of their monetary policy decisions on other economies and "be prepared to act if things get out of kilter" “. Why? Because “The reduction in stimulus, known as tapering, may affect capital flows to emerging markets and impact their currencies”. Why do you want to give ownership and control of India to foreign enemies when India has all the investment capital it wants by simply printing the money which is what the U.S. is doing stealing my proposal about money -- see ‘How India’s Economy Can Grow 30% Per Year or More’ : HowIndiasEconomyCanGrowDOTblogspotDOTcom ? These filthy niggers Manmohan Singh and Raghuram Rajan must also be whipped and hanged along with filthy niggers Amartya Sen, Subramanian Swamy -- who were both brought to Harvard and one of them given a Nobel prize expressly to provide cover for the crimes against me -- and anyone else in public life you can think of. It is not too late to whip and hang filthy niggers Vajpayee and George Fernandes both of whom have been faking illness and an inability to speak to avoid answering questions about their participation in the CIA’s crimes against me. Nor is it too late to whip and hang filthy nigger Ram Jethmalani, who was also brought to Harvard to provide cover for crimes against me and rewarded with a half a million dollar per year law practice and filthy nigger L. K Advani who, while Home Minister, was brought, under pain of being prosecuted for the Babri Masjid demolition, to C.I.A. Headquarters to make India’s Home Ministry a participant in the C.I.A.’s crimes against me. Filthy nigger Kejriwal wants to provide a few services at lower rates but my proposal about money shows how to provide all goods and services free of charge to everyone. Filthy nigger M. Karunanidhi should be whipped and hanged; he was having Indian currency printed in China with the help of the Reserve Bank of India chief to provide some freebies to the people of Tamil Nadu as I described in my press releases but kept the crimes against me covered up otherwise everything could be provided free of charge to everyone in India. Filthy nigger Jayalalitha should be whipped and hanged for saying she has a vision for India but keeping quiet about the crimes against me because of which India will remain poor, weak and enslaved despite her vision. The filthy niggers that are India’s Supreme Court judges should be whipped and hanged for participating in CIA-RAW’s crimes against me and India by claiming to have lost the papers of a lawsuit I filed after duly acknowledging it as a front page lead report in New York’s News India-Times described two decades ago. I have described RAW’s trafficking of Indian children to Israel to be used as food -- RAWsTraffickingOfIndianChildrenDOTblogspotDOTcom -- and said that “The Jews' fondness for human flesh is far easier sated on Indians than on those around them. Thousands of missing children from India end up in Israeli kitchens and it costs them less than goat meat … When the Congress Party president and her son spent a number of days in Switzerland recently [in 2011] taking care of their black money there, they were told in no uncertain terms by the Jewish bankers that their ability to keep their black money hidden depended on the continuation of the trafficking of Indians for food. Both the Congress Party president and her son had to partake of such food with their bankers to seal the agreement”. I have also described the torture and killing of the children so their skins can be made into shoes and handbags. The above state of affairs cannot be changed except by India’s nuclear forces simultaneously destroying Washington, New York, RAW headquarters, South Block and North Block which they must do without delay, with a warning that additional U.S. cities will be destroyed, with nuclear warheads already emplaced in them, if there is any retaliation or sign of retaliation. It is important for Pakistan’s media to inform the world about this so no one will think the nuclear explosions in New Delhi were caused by Pakistan and for Russian media to inform the world about this so no one will think the nuclear explosions in Washington and New York were caused by Russia. Regardless of what Pakistan and Russia do, India’s nuclear forces are putting India in grave danger and committing suicide by not obeying Satish Chandra and triggering the warheads. Russia and the U.S. can destroy the other but will be destroyed in return but India can destroy the U.S. without being destroyed.

Lech's picture

The ennexation of Crimea should be considered as local
(regional) conflict and as smaller than that in former
Yougoslavia, where NATO force was used. In my opinion,
we all repeat the same mistake classifying Russia as
lower grade country. In the past 25 years Russia has
conducted quite fair policy towards EU and NATO, while
at home several times has faced the threats from Chechens who sometimes went to hidding in Georgia.
NATO will soon need Russia help on withdrawal of armed
forces from Afganistan. We can't then adopt a double
standards on judging Kosovo and Crimea.

satan zagorski's picture

After we saw the soft approach of EU politicians towards the occupation of a part of Ukraine, the only thing we in Europe can rely on are NATO forces.

An American's picture

YES! My thoughts exactly, burn the house down at the sight of a spider.

Russia beat the west at their own game in Ukraine and has Crimea in the bag. It's gone for good, get over it, and move on. Next time show a little respect for all the players in the game.