Friday, 11 April 2014

RUSSIA-NATO: Putin's goals & Flat Footed NATO

The Ukraine crisis has caught NATO flat-footed as it rushes to find an adequate response to Russia.
The alliance's cooperation with Russia -- which took years to build up -- has been on ice since last week. And Moscow is no longer seen as a partner, but as an adversary.

NATO says tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine for a potential invasion, yet Western states still lack a strategy to stop Moscow from intervening in its former Soviet neighbours.

Prior to the Ukraine crisis, there were many asking what purpose NATO would serve once the alliance's troops had withdrawn from Afghanistan. But now that Putin has taken over the Crimea -- leading countries on the alliance's eastern edge to feel threatened -- the mood in NATO's Brussels headquarters has changed dramatically. General Secretary Rasmussen, one NATO source said, has "positively blossomed." And the US, Britain and most Eastern European member states support him.

The new debate within NATO is no doubt music to the ears of aging cold warriors who have always felt that integrating Moscow into alliance structures was dangerously naive. But it is also the logical consequence of a reconsideration of Russian President Vladimir Putin's long-term goals. If Russia is now planning its future against the West rather than with the West, then the question regarding of ''how to deal with Putin'' must be posed.

With military action to protect non-NATO states effectively ruled out, current and former officials say sanctions and isolation provide the best - and perhaps only - way to pressure Moscow. Ramping up the pressure on the rich and powerful around President Vladimir Putin, they say, might in time push him towards a much more conciliatory approach.

But that, they concede, could prove a long game, and some both in and outside government worry that a more isolated Russia may simply become both more nationalist and self-sufficient. Putting Putin under more pressure, they worry, may give him even more incentive to take a populist, more aggressive approach.

Yet there is certainly a military aspect to the issue. Already, Ukraine has sent a request to NATO headquarters for the delivery of radios, weapons and munitions from alliance stores. And NATO has asked alliance members to make additional contributions over and above the already agreed to increase to air-policing sorties and AWACS surveillance flights. Proposals are to be submitted to NATO headquarters by mid-April.

Poland, for its part, would like to see even more shows of NATO solidarity. Not to put too fine a point on it, Poland is afraid of Russia, as are its Baltic neighbors. Some of that fear stems from the Soviet era. But Russia's recent show of power on Ukraine's eastern border -- and Putin's evident refusal to withdraw forces as he recently promised -- has also raised concern in Warsaw.

The West long snickered at the dilapidated state of Russia's military. But it has since been dramatically modernized and analysts in Western armies and intelligence services are concerned about the capabilities Russia has put on display in recent maneuvers.

''Operation Sapad 2013'' is a particularly stark example: Sapad is the Russian word for West and the exercise could certainly be understood as a threat pointed in that direction. Officially, fewer than 13,000 soldiers took part in the exercise, falling below the threshold that would have required observation by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). But part of the exercise took place in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea that shares borders with Poland and Lithuania. Special forces were involved as were officers from the FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency.

In total, Western military leaders estimate, some 60,000 people took part in the maneuver -- one which even interfered with a NATO radar facility in the Baltics. The Russian military also fired a short-range "Iskander" missile. It was armed with nothing more than a practice warhead, but drills for arming such missiles with nuclear warheads were also apparently carried out.

It is clear what the Russians showed the West/NATO with the maneuver: They can escalate a conflict on their western border and then contain it again. Nobody doubts today that Russia would be able to overrun and occupy eastern Ukraine.

What is happening in the region is that Russia is successfully imposing new demarcation lines between what it considers its own sphere of influence and the West. These lines could delineate the new post–Cold War borders.

In effect, the region east of NATO could become Russia’s glacis, a playground for Moscow to make land grabs. That’s what Russia has done in Crimea as well as in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia’s next step could be to consolidate its grip over Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-Photo-NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has asked member states to come up with ways to increase the alliance's presence in Eastern Europe.