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The occupation of Crimea as a global threat

Expert: “The West has never had a strategy towards Ukraine, neither it had an understanding of Ukraine’s importance for the expansion of Euro-Atlantic civilization to the east”
21 March, 2016 - 18:06

These days, as Ukraine remembers the second anniversary of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, an international conference “The Militarization of the Occupied Crimea as a Threat to International Security” convened in Kyiv. It was initiated by the following organizations: “Maidan of Foreign Affairs”; Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies; Institute for Strategic Studies of the Black Sea; and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. No politicians had been invited; experts from various countries assessed the threats that arose from Russia’s aggressive policy. They also developed recipes for how to contain it and how to restore the international security. The Day has identified the most pressing theses of the participants’ speeches.


“Russian imperialism manifests itself in the desire of modern Russia to take the place in world politics, which she herself has defined” – this was the diagnosis of the Kremlin by Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars. “In Crimea, entire groups are being targeted in the repressive policy of the occupation authorities. Before the very eyes of the world, Crimean Tatar people are paying the price for their integrity and for the position, which coincides with that of the international community; the position, which is based on international values. And the international community cannot protect these people.”

“Whenever the leading actors are trying to solve the conflict, which was caused by Russian aggression against Ukraine, as they set priorities in the issues that need addressing, the de-occupation of Crimea always gets relegated to the 2nd or 3rd position. Reduced attention to Crimea prompts the increase of repression on the peninsula. Dozens of human lives and fates depend on it,” said Chubarov. “That’s why we need to quickly create an international platform for the discussion of Crimea de-occupation. Our task is to force Russia to be present on the discussion of this fundamental issue.”


Ihor Smeshko, former head of the SBU, spoke about geopolitical consequences of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia: “Because Russia occupied the peninsula, the West has no strategy for further expansion within the Euro-Atlantic civilization. Russia, lacking the resources of a strategical world player, nevertheless has such a strategy at hand. The Western world is a powerful military and economic machine, but in terms of systemic vision and decision-making, it has also provoked the Russian president to develop ‘greatness of state for any price’ and ‘returning our territories or fully controlling them’ types of strategy.”

The ex-head of the SBU sees the reasons for this in the fact that the West has never had a strategy towards Ukraine; neither the West did understand Ukraine’s importance for the promotion of Euro-Atlantic civilization to the East: “Even de Gaulle said that the international security system should span from Vancouver to Vladivostok, but no one has ever promoted this kind of strategy. No one has ever realized that the only chance for Russia to become a part of the Euro-Atlantic space is the success of Ukrainian state.”

“The present level of NATO’s capabilities and the configuration of Russia’s military component suggest that the Baltic States are not protected at all. Under these conditions, Ukraine should adopt a more active and aggressive position. It is necessary to start consultations on the establishment of a confederation of effective protection in the event of Russian aggression, which is relevant in the space between the Baltic and the Black Sea region,” suggested Smeshko.


Valentyn Badrak, Director of the Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies, spoke about the military aspect of the Crimean occupation: “The militarization of Crimea has become a threat to security not only on a regional scale, but on the global scale as well. In two years the number of Russian group has doubled, from 12,500 to 24,000,” he said. “Russia plans to increase the number of Russian Black Sea Fleet to almost 50,000 people. ‘Iskander-M’ missile launch complexes have appeared on the Crimean territory, and they can fire missiles as far away as to the coast of Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Kremlin also plans to station Tu-22M3 long-range planes there. Russia, which has destroyed the global security system, is up to further confrontation against the civilized world.”

“We need to increase and strengthen the sanctions against Russia to prevent the emergence of high-tech machines, new military technologies, and weapons,” added Badrak.


Badrak’s statement was supplemented by that of Yurii Smiliansky, expert of “Maidan of Foreign Affairs.” He started as follows: “The group, which is planned to be stationed on the peninsula, will be up to 100,000-120,000 people strong. The occupants today are bringing back Crimea’s status as an ‘unsinkable military aircraft carrier.’ Crimea is turned into a rehabilitation center for those fighting in the eastern Ukraine, military training camps for terrorists are established. The peninsula became the base center for the support of Russian armed groups in Syria. The purposes of this military base are as follows: to pose a threat to Ukraine and its sea transport routes, which can lead to the loss of at least 25 percent of trade that goes via seaports; to pose a threat to NATO members and other countries of Southern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea; to intimidate Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries.”

As for the prospects of Crimea in the hands of the occupier, the Smiliansky forecasts a bleak future: “To properly support a military base, the proportion of civilians to military civilians should be 4:1. A 120,000-strong military group will require 480,000-500,000 residents. So, optimally, no more than 1 million inhabitants should remain in Crimea. This is one reason of the unprecedented pressure exerted on ‘disloyal citizens,’ as well as of the decrease of living standards. Since the beginning of the occupation, the amount of available jobs has decreased from 1.05 million to 250 thousand.”


Mykhailo Honchar, president of the Center for Global Studies “Strategy XXI,” spoke about the energy aspect of the Crimean occupation as a threat to European security. “One of the motives to occupy Crimea was energy. This allows Russia to resolve strategic issues: eliminating promising development projects and gas production in the Black Sea, initiated by Ukraine; ousting international companies that compete with Russia from the sector; denying Ukraine access to the portion of offshore fields; prompting the route correction of Trans Black Sea gas pipeline.”

The expert also substantiated the energy aspect of the occupied peninsula. “Had the ‘Novorossia’ project succeeded, it would not be Crimea to experience the energy deficit, but the rest of Ukraine,” said Honchar. “Crimean power transfer system from the mainland to the peninsula has a capacity of 1,250 MW. The Russian Ministry for Energy operates a figure of 1,442 MW that Crimea needs, but all the initiated projects of Crimean ‘energy independence’ amount to 2,225 MW. The excess capacity suggests a significant increase in military infrastructure on the peninsula. This is a more ambitious plan than we might imagine. But the occupier will fail to solve the energy supply problem in Crimea in short-term – the entire south of Russia experiences energy deficit.”

“Russian aggressive rhetoric has also increased in relation to the Caspian Sea, the area around which lie the EU’s interests in terms of alternatives to Russian energy supply,” continued Honchar, referring to the European energy strategy of the Kremlin. “Russia undermines the situation in the eastern Turkey, where the pipelines are, by exploiting the Kurdish factor. Who controls the energy supply, controls the EU. These are the challenges that European colleagues have no answers to.”


Especially interesting were the reports of international guests: which are the assessment at the expert level of the aggressive Kremlin’s policies in the context of Crimean occupation? “In Germany, more and more become aware that Russia is not interested in resolving the conflict in the eastern Ukraine and in normalizing the situation in Crimea,” spoke Gabriele Baumann, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ukraine. “Russia is trying to implement a scenario played in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria. It also launched an extensive propaganda campaign, trying to split the EU through propaganda and intelligence services, and in Germany to discredit the policies of Angela Merkel.”


“Because of weak national policies, none of our politicians expected such an international situation to occur. Merkel had not thought that she would have to deal with a crisis instigated by Russia,” said Glen Grant, associate professor of the Center for Civil-Military Relations (US). “They are thinking very rigidly and slowly, and there is no proper vision of what to do in order to help Ukraine.”

Grant also gave some important advice for Ukraine: “You are at war and I do not see any symptoms that the situation has improved. So, you need to consider this danger and prepare for what will happen next. More and more people are coming to the east of Ukraine. You must have a strategy that would take into account what Putin is going to do next.”

“In addition to getting rid of the ‘fatigue’ Europe experiences on Ukrainian subjects, which Putin uses to his advantage, you need to recover and reform. If not, this fatigue will lead to the destruction of Ukraine,” said Grant.

The American expert also paid some attention to the role of civil society in this process. “Civil society of Ukraine should cooperate with the West to the fullest extent possible, because now only the establishment does so,” says Grant. “If your strategy will not include civil society and its activities in cooperation with the West, then Ukraine will eventually lose all ties with the Western establishment. Western policy will remain complex, uncoordinated, and uncertain. Civil society in Ukraine should take more initiatives and develop a strategy for better dialog with the West.”


James Sherr, Research fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (UK), noted that the aim of Russian foreign policy is to split the EU on political terms. “Russia clearly understands that the West is weak politically to the same extent as Russia is weak economically,” said Sherr. “The EU today is completely focused on itself and performs no other activity. There are reasons for that – the issue of Britain’s exit, the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis. Our response to what is happening in Ukraine is only a formality.”

“Russia is using migration as a weapon,” said the British expert. “The entire military science in Russia comprises of a Cheka tradition of instigating fights on some theaters to affect other theaters. Russia is trying to save the Assad regime. They need Syria they can use. It will have complex implications for other countries in the region.”

He also gave a pessimistic forecast regarding the developments in Donbas: “I did not panic when Russia had increased its forces in Ukraine, but many circumstances indicate that there is a very high probability of Mr. Putin preparing a surprise for August – between June, when the sanctions might be extended, and September, when Russia will hold Duma elections.”

There is only one conclusion of the words that were heard at the international conference on the occupied Crimea – the Kremlin’s aggressive policy today, which only gains momentum, is a challenge not only for Ukraine, but also for the entire Western world. But will Ukrainian and global establishments listen to the voice of the expert community?

By Dmytro KRYVTSUN, The Day