Why Russia is Invading Ukraine by SSI Honorary Fellow, Professor Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 March.  Article 30 of the May 2009 Russian National Security Strategy states, “Negative influences on the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies are aggravated by the departure from international agreements pertaining to arms limitation and reduction, and likewise by actions intended to disrupt the stability of systems of government and military administration…”  The Russian invasion this past weekend is blatant flouting of international law.  It is also a long-planned intervention that has been sitting in the files of the Russian Defence Ministry since at least 1991.  The grand strategic reason for the intervention is the determination of Moscow to reassert control over what it sees as Russia’s “near abroad” with Ukraine as its lynchpin.  However, there are five additional reasons why Moscow has seized the collapse of the Yanukovich regime as the moment to intervene – history, military strategy, military capability, politics and opportunity.

History:  Ukraine has always had a strong pull on the Russian mind as it is the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In 1954 Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed ‘control’ of the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  As Ukraine was then firmly under Moscow’s control the transfer mattered little, although it did mean the de facto shift of ethnic Russians and Tartars under the nominal administrative fiat of Kiev.  On Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the transfer became a matter of both historical and strategic import to Moscow.  ‘Loss’ of Ukraine to the EU (and eventually NATO) would be the final humiliation to the Kremlin following two decades of perceived retreat since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Military Strategy:  One of Russia’s long held strategic mantras has been the need to maintain a warm water naval base that could enable Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  Sevastopol has long provided just such a facility for the Black Seas Fleet, which is in fact the Russian Mediterranean Fleet.  The nature of the Russian military operation this weekend and the use of Special Forces to establish a bridgehead at Simferopol and Sevastopol Airports are indicative.  They point to a classic Russian expeditionary operation that creates and exploits local unrest to enable seizure of the seat of government as well as control of land, sea and air space.  The initial aim is to secure the Sevastopol base and its lines of supply and re-supply with Russia.

Military Capability: In 2010 Russia announced it would inject $775 billion into the professionalization and modernization of its armed forces.  This followed the disappointing performance of Russian forces in 2008 during Moscow’s seizure of parts of Georgia. The bulk of those new forces are established in the Central and Western Military Districts which abut the Ukrainian border.  The kit being worn by the deployed force demonstrates a mix of Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and specialised forces and reflects the effort Moscow has made to improve deployability of its elite professional forces.

Ukrainian forces have enjoyed no such modernization.  In any case the upper echelons of the Ukrainian military’s command chain are deeply split, as evinced by the defection this weekend by the Head of the Ukrainian Navy.  Many senior Ukrainian officers owe their appointment to Yanukovich.

Politics:  The Putin regime was established in 2000 and led to the cult of Putinism.  It is a regime that consolidates domestic power by appealing to nostalgic Russian notions of grandeur.  In particular the regime has endeavoured to recreate the sense of a Russia powerful enough to re-capture the influence Moscow enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the Soviet Union’s super-power.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics were very much part of the regime’s image-building.  In 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry gave equal billing to Russia in the handling of the Syria crisis and enhanced the reputation of the regime at home.

Opportunity:  The Kremlin under Putin is first and foremost a strategic opportunist.  The withdrawal of two US Brigade Combat Teams from Europe may seem small in and of itself.  However, taken together with the ‘pivot’ to Asia and President Obama’s uncertain grip of grand strategy the US is no longer the stabilising force in Europe it once was.  The Kremlin also has contempt for ideas of ‘civil power’ built around Germany and the EU.  Moreover, Russia’s military renaissance has taken place in parallel with the West’s failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Kremlin is also acutely conscious of Europe’s economic travails and de facto disarmament with total defence spending in Europe down by minus 1.8% per annum since 2001.  Moreover, the refusal of all but two NATO European states to meet their obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence has also led Moscow to conclude that Europeans lack the will and capability to block Moscow’s regional-strategic ambitions.

Implications for Russia and Ukraine:  The seizure of parts of Ukraine will in the short-term strengthen the grip of Putin over Russia.  However, Russia faces deep demographic and economic challenges which unless addressed will see Russia continue to fade as the West, China and others eclipse Moscow.

The east of Ukraine is very vulnerable.  Moscow has a cynical view of the use of power and will almost certainly use the concerns of ethnic Russians to justify an intervention that would straighten Russia’s strategic borders and thus consolidate the new Russian sphere of influence.

Recommendations: There is no quick fix available to Western policymakers.  However, Western allies must use all the non-military tools at their disposal to force the Kremlin to reconsider the costs versus the benefits of such action.  That will include use of international fora to build a countervailing coalition, possibly with China which dislikes sovereignty grabs.  All economic tools must be applied with sanctions imposed on key officials, with Aeroflot flights to Europe and North America suspended and Gazprom slowly removed from the European market.  The accounts of senior Russians outside of the the country must be frozen.  Finally, the US must re-position forces back in Europe, including the Baltic States and Europeans must commit to the re-building of their armed forces.

Conclusions:  Over the medium-to-long term NATO allies must re-establish credible defence as part of a balanced economic, diplomatic and military influence effort in and around Europe.  Former US President Bill Clinton and former US Ambassador to NATO Nick Burns said yesterday that the enlargement of NATO to former members of the Soviet Bloc guaranteed their security.  This is correct to a point. Without the modernisation of Article 5 collective defence the value of NATO membership will over time erode and if Putin remains in power the Kremlin will exploit such weakness.

Julian Lindley-French

Geneva Talks Lack Sincerity and Concrete Action, by Tobias Borck – Crisis Watch: Syria

Wang Yi, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, is hopeful: “A review of human history teaches that any conflict, however serious, can be resolved, and any hatred, however deep, can be removed. As long as there is sincerity and concrete action.”[i]

These words were part of Mr. Wang’s statement during the so-called ‘high-level segment’ of the Geneva II Conference on Syria. Alongside him in the huge conference room in Montreux were the foreign ministers and officials from some 40 countries and international organisations, as well as delegations from the Syrian regime and the Syrian National Coalition – the opposition group with the highest international profile, but doubtful influence over the opposition fighters on the ground in Syria.

It is not clear which historic conflicts Mr. Wang had in mind. Perhaps he was talking about the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) or the Bosnian war (1992-1995). Both conflicts brought immeasurable human suffering leading to horrendously high death tolls (approximately 150,000 in Lebanon[ii]; more than 97;000 in Bosnia[iii]). And both conflicts were brought to an end through internationally brokered peace processes, resulting in the Taif Agreement[iv] and the Dayton Accords[v] respectively.

In any case, the Syrian war certainly is a ‘serious conflict’ and the deep hatred between the various waring factions is not least depicted in thousands of terrifying YouTube videos. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,[vi] more than 136,000 people have been killed since the first wave of protests against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011. More than 2.4 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, over 6.5 million have been internally displaced. USAID estimates that more than 9.3 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance as they are suffering through the cold winter.[vii]

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Syrian conflict will not be resolved on the battlefield. After almost three years of fighting no side looks poised for a decisive military victory.[viii] A political solution is the only way out of the brutal stalemate, and the mere fact that the Geneva II conference has taken place therefore has to be seen as a positive sign. Yet, after ten days of negotiations there is no credible solution to the conflict in sight.

With the next round of negotiations scheduled to begin on the 10th of February, the Geneva II conference appears to be turning into a more permanent Geneva-process. However, there is little reason for optimism that the talks will be producing any meaningful progress anytime soon. This is not least due to the fact that “sincerity and concrete action”, Mr. Wang’s conditions for resolving a conflict, have thus far been absent from Geneva.

The fact that the Geneva conference saw the first direct talks between delegations from the Syrian regime and the opposition has to be seen as a positive sign. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the two sides are truly willing to engage in sincere and meaningful negotiations.

The regime delegation categorically refused to even discuss the future of president al-Assad. Instead they submitted a document calling for the return to Syrian sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967.[ix] Information minister Omran al-Zohbi cast further doubts over his delegation’s willingness for compromise. Outside the UN’s Geneva headquarters he told supporters that “neither in this round, nor in the next will they obtain any concessions from the Syrian delegation.”[x]

Meanwhile, doubts persist regarding the willingness of the opposition to participate in negotiations with the regime. The Syrian National Coalition was the only opposition group present in Geneva. The Islamic Front, currently the strongest non-extremist armed opposition group, on the other hand rejects the very concept of talks to resolve the conflict.[xi]

But even the Syrian National Coalition failed to convincingly demonstrate its willingness for compromise. This was not least illustrated by the group’s threat to withdraw from the talks entirely when UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon invited Iran to Geneva.[xii] Considering Iran’s heavy involvement in the war as the regime’s closest ally, and the fact that Saudi-Arabia and other overt supporters of the armed opposition were present, this uncompromising stance by the Coalition seems short-sighted. Even though Tehran refuses to endorse the Geneva I communique[xiii] from June 2012 as the basis for the political process, it is clear that an effective resolution of the conflict is only possible with participation of all parties involved – including Iran.

As for “concrete action,” the Geneva talks have produced next to nothing. The two sides agreed some limited ceasefires to allow access for humanitarian aid workers, particularly around the besieged city of Homs. But according to Valerie Amos, the UN’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, these measures have so far been ineffective.[xiv]

Once again, the only truly concrete action the Syrian people are seeing has little to do with peace. During the 10 days of talks in Geneva almost 1,900 people were killed, the following weekend brought an additional 591 deaths.[xv] In Aleppo the regime is bombarding rebel-held areas with crude barrel bombs, causing death and destruction, and hardly a day goes by without the appearance of another amateur video depicting unspeakable acts of brutality committed by government forces, radical islamists or the more ‘moderate’ rebels.[xvi]

However, “sincerity and concrete action” is also required from the international community. The permanent members of the UN Security Council invested considerable effort in organising the conference, yet they remain unwilling to exert real pressure on the belligerents on the ground to halt the violence. Saudi-Arabia, other Gulf nations, and Iran give verbal support for a political solution, but continue to supply their respective allies with funds and weapons, which contributes to the protraction of the conflict. At the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait on the 15th of January, the international community committed to a give a total of $2.3 billion to ease the humanitarian crisis.[xvii] However, giving money is not enough to end the conflict.

At the end of the first 10 days of negotiations in Geneva, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s Special Envoy to Syria tried his best to emphasise the positive: “Progress is very slow indeed, but the sides have engaged in an acceptable manner. This is a very modest beginning, but it is a beginning on which we can build.”[xviii] However, unless the delegations from the regime and the opposition, and the international community are truly sincere in their willingness to find common ground and commit to concrete action, the Syrian war will not come to a peaceful solution. The solution of the conflict needs compromise and sacrifice, not a mere additional, diplomatic battlefront in the UN’s conference rooms in Geneva.


[i] Wang Yi, “Wang Yi:Seek Common Ground While Shelving Differences And Meet Each Other Half Way To Find a Political Settlement of the Syrian Issue,” Office of the Commissioner of the Ministery of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples Republic of China, 23 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.fmcoprc.gov.hk/eng/xwdt/wsyw/t1122045.htm

[ii] “Lebanon Profile,” BBC News, last modified 31 December 2013, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14649284

[iii] “Bosnia War Dead Figure Announced,” BBC News, last modified 21 June 2007, accessed 4 February 2014, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/6228152.stm

[iv] “Taef Agreement,” Le Monde Diplomatique, undated, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/cahier/proche-orient/region-liban-taef-en

[v] “Dayton Accords,” U.S. Department of State, undated, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/or/dayton/

[vi] See: Syrian Observatory of Human Rights at: http://syriahr.com/en/

[vii] “Syria,” USAID, last modified 4 February 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.usaid.gov/crisis/syria

[viii] Borzou Daragahi, “Assad Fails to Break Syrian Stalemate Despite Rebel Infighting,” Financial Times, 15 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cf51f198-7df6-11e3-b409-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2sNPOITSY

[ix] Anne Barnard, “Syria Talks Appear Deadlocked as Sides Disagree over Goals,” International New York Times, 27 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/world/middleeast/syria.html?_r=0

[x] Ian Black, “Nearly 1,900 Killed in Syria Since Geneva Talks Began,” The Guardian, 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/31/syria-death-toll-geneva-talks

[xi] “Major Syrian Rebel Group Rejects Geneva Peace Talks,” Al-Jazeera America, 19 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/19/major-syrian-rebelgrouprejectsgenevapeacetalks.html

[xii] Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi, “Iran Invite to Syria Talks Withdrawn After Boycott Threat,” Reuters, 20 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/20/us-syria-un-iran-idUSBREA0J01K20140120

[xiii] “Final communiqué of the Action Group for Syria – Geneva, Saturday 30 June 2012,” The United Nations Office at Geneva, 30 June 2012, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/%28httpNewsByYear_en%29/18F70DBC923963B1C1257A2D0060696B?OpenDocument

[xiv] Alexandra Olson, “UN Official Dismayed at Failure of Syria Aid Deal,” ABC News, 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/official-dismayed-failure-syria-aid-deal-22318905

[xv] See: Syrian Observatory of Human Rights at: http://syriahr.com/en/

[xvi] “Fighting Continues as Syria Talks Wind Up,” Al-Jazeera, last modified 2 February 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/video/middleeast/2014/02/fighting-continues-as-syria-talks-wind-up-20142223917200352.html

[xvii] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, Kuwait 15 January 2014,” accessed 4 February 2014, https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/K2_PLEDGE_26JAN2014_report+graphic.pdf

[xviii] “Syria Crisis: Geneva Peace Talks End in Recriminations,” BBC News, last modified 31 January 2014, accessed 4 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25983181

Andrew Rathmell’s View – Libya: How to build a stateless state?

Two years after the death of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s transition is not going well.  The headlines  tell a depressing story: the Prime Minister (briefly) kidnapped by his own security services; daily assassinations, bombings and robberies; militias and secessionists in the east blockading oil facilities; and the General National Congress (parliament) in disarray.  In the coffee shops and dilapidated government offices where the Tripolitanian middle classes and government officials gather, there is talk of stasis and disappointed expectations.

None of these travails are surprising in the context of a bloody transition from a long-entrenched dictatorship.  For a successful transition, Libya needs to work towards an internal political settlement that balances the interests of its different regions, and to build state structures that are able to enforce the rule of law and administer the economy in a way that serves the wider population rather than, as under Qaddafi, selected elites.

The International Community is responding to this challenge creditably, with the UN, World Bank, EU, US and numerous individual countries rushing to offer assistance.  Keen to see a stable Libya emerge which can get oil production back on track, control its porous borders and crack down on homegrown jihadists, they are providing a range of technical assistance to the Libyan security sector and civil service.  By building up these government institutions in the context of a constitutional process, goes the logic, a duly elected Libyan government will be able to get a grip on the country.  It seems “obvious” that, in a country with a small population, abundant oil wealth, and a lack of deep sectarian or ethnic divisions, this standard statebuilding formula should work.

However, there is a contradiction at the heart of the Libyan state-building project.  Unlike many of its neighbours, modern Libya has deliberately tried not to build a state.  While Libya appears to have the trappings of modern statehood (ministries, flags, airlines, security forces), at the deeper conceptual level, the country has eschewed real state-building.  This was most explicit during Qaddafi’s rule when he put in place a system of “permanent revolution” and deliberately undermined state institutions. But even under the monarchy, the regime only constructed the façade of statehood.  The central administrative and coercive institutions were built purely to protect a narrow elite rather than to support a wider programme of state-building.

Historians have argued that this aversion to statebuilding derives in part from Libya’s disastrous experience with modern statehood under the brutal Italian occupation and in part from the relatively recent and rapid process of urbanisation.  Whatever the cause, the Libyan predeliction for “stateless statebuilding” means that an overly simplistic approach of transferring international skills, equipment and organisational structures is unlikely to succeed.

Libya’s international allies will need to avoid the all too common tendency to import templates from other jurisdictions and Libya’s leaders will need to recognise that they cannot “buy” a modern state overnight.  They will need to focus as much effort on the essentially political tasks of linking state structures to the population as on the technical tasks of bolstering government institutions.  It will be a fascinating, if fraught, journey.

For a recent update, see David Hammond’s blog at: http://9bri.com/human-rights-in-libya-interview-and-comment-on-the-deaths-in-tripoli-from-the-national-council-for-civil-liberties-and-human-rights/

 

Paul Newton contributes to new book, ‘British Generals in Blair’s Wars’

Paul Newton, Director of SSI, has contributed a chapter to a new book, ‘British Generals in Blair’s Wars’ edited by Jonathan Bailey, Richard Iron and Professor Sir Hew Strachan, to be published by Ashgate in August.

Paul draws on his personal experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq for the chapter. The book presents a new account of the roles played by the senior military commanders who planned and led military operations in a period of rapid change against a background of intense political controversy.

Details of the book can be found on the publishers website.

Paul Cornish – New Publication on Strategic Cultures in Europe

Professor Paul Cornish has contributed a chapter covering the United Kingdom to a newly published, systematic analysis of the strategic culture of all EU member states and Turkey:

Strategic Cultures in Europe – Security and Defence Policies Across the Continent

By Heiko Biehl, Bastian Giegerich & Alexandra Jonas (eds.)

The book is available as an e-book or in paperback:

http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-658-01168-0/page/1

Paul Cornish – Recent Conferences and Events

Professor Paul Cornish spoke on ‘Professional Military Education in a Strategic Age’ at a conference sponsored by NATO and the UK Defence Academy at Wilton Park in May 2013. Later in May Professor Cornish spoke on ‘The Idea of a National Security Strategy’ at a conference in honour of Professor Colin Gray at the University of Reading.

Following the death of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday 22 May Professor Cornish published a short article on The Conversation UK; an independent, online source of news and opinion drawn from the academic and policy research community.

Professor Cornish’s article can be found on The Conversation’s website:

http://theconversation.com/the-duty-of-care-that-should-keep-our-armed-forces-safe-but-didnt-14645

 

 

Paul Newton: Learning to Operate in Complexity

It’s all well and good addressing the complexity of the modern security landscape in a theoretical way. It is an altogether richer experience if one can marry theory with the practical insight that comes from seeing – indeed being an integral part of – an endeavour that operates on a scale far beyond the confines of any university classroom-based simulation or work placement.

That is the unique experience students and staff at SSI enjoy thanks to a formal partnership between the Institute and NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps – the headquarters that recently returned from Kabul.

ARRC is a multi-national and increasingly inter-agency organisation. Several hundred strong, held on short notice and at a high state of preparedness to deploy, it exists to take strategic direction and translate that into plans and operations in any security setting from major war to humanitarian relief.

In a concept trialled last year, Exeter students on the MStrat programme will now experience analytical complexity and agile decision-making by taking part in ARRC’s annual mission rehearsals. In return, NATO staff have already exploited the rich academic expertise in Exeter’s growing applied strategy and security communities. This is a new model for academic/practitioner engagement – one that should be productive for both parties.