Russia, NATO and the New Ukrainian Defense Policy

In December, Moscow adopted a new military doctrine and stressed again that NATO and the United States were Russia’s biggest enemies. It also strengthened its military position in the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Arctic region. Internationally, Moscow forged closer relations with China and stated that an international war was possible. With regard to Ukraine, Russia demanded 100 percent guaranties that it would never join NATO, but what are Kyiv’s choices?


By Nicholas Dima | February 10, 2015


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the 51st Security Conference in Munich, February 6-8, warning of NATO expansion

Ukraine is a struggling country caught between Russia and the European Union. Historically, the country has been associated with Moscow and its culture is split between the Russian-dominated East and the European-dominated West. In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, the late Harvard professor Samuel Huntington stated that Ukraine is a cleft country with two distinct cultures. Geographically, Ukraine is a bridge that links and separates Russia from Europe. A bridge, however, he argued, can break at any time, and this is what Moscow did last year when it occupied and annexed Crimea and encouraged eastern Ukraine to revolt against Kyiv.

The recent upheavals and the uncompromising struggle between the pro-eastern and pro-western tendencies show how deeply Moscow is involved in the evolution of this country.  If Ukraine wants to join the European Union, Moscow becomes suspicious and is ready to sabotage any move in that direction. However, if Ukraine wants to join NATO, Russia is ready to use any means, military included, and if necessary is ready to dismember the country. The process started by annexing Crimea and by threatening a split of the Donbas region.

In December Moscow adopted a new military doctrine and stressed again that NATO and the United States were Russia’s biggest enemies. It also strengthened its military position in the Black Sea, the Caucasus and the Arctic region. Internationally, Moscow also forged closer relations with China and stated that an international war was possible. With regard to Ukraine, Russia demanded 100 percent guaranties that it would never join NATO, but what are Kyiv’s choices?

After the bloody events of the last year, the Ukrainian authorities, and more importantly, the people at large, realized that the country was in a dire situation. They understood that on the one hand Moscow did not respect the international agreement regarding Ukraine’s borders and on the other the country did not have the military capacity to confront Russia. Yet, the crisis and the armed conflict that already took several thousand lives helped the Ukrainian people clarify their identity and national interests and distinguish friends from foes. The conflict made President Petro Poroshenko, as well as most Ukrainians, look toward Europe for their future. The separatist war and hostilities of 2014 opened a new era in East-West relations. For the time being, the events are unfolding slowly because no one wants a dangerous escalation, but they are moving slowly toward more confrontation.

As reported by AP, on December 24 the Kyiv parliament repealed the 2010 law regarding Ukraine’s nonaligned status. That law was mandating a policy of “nonparticipation in any military-political alliances.” The repeal was approved 303 to 9 showing an unexpected solidarity among lawmakers. A few days later, President Petro Poroshenko signed the law and stated that finally “a mistake has been corrected.” He also said that Kyiv was working to reform the national economy and military forces to meet European and NATO standards.

As for NATO, a spokesman said that “our door is open and Ukraine could become a member if it fulfills the standards and adheres to the necessary principles.” General Jens Stoltenberg also stated that Ukraine is a “valued partner.” And the U.S. State Department announced that “Countries that are willing to contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic space are welcome to apply for membership.” NATO has not actually issued a formal invitation to Kyiv for membership in the alliance, but the idea has already alarmed Moscow.  Potential membership in the Western alliance would confront Russia in its own backyard and Moscow finds that unacceptable. Consequently, its response was immediate and threatening. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted more moderately by stating that the new law would only heat up the current confrontation.

Moscow’s newly modified and adopted military doctrine reflects Russia’s anxiety.  Local observers and Western analysts stress, however, that except for its nuclear capacity Russia’s military is weak and its economy is in shambles. In fact, the economy is based almost exclusively on the export of oil and gas. The plummeting global price of oil together with the Western economic sanctions has brought Russia to its knees. The rubble, for example, lost almost half of its value and the stores began to empty themselves of goods as they were during the last Soviet years.

Yet, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who addressed the 51st Security Conference held in Munich, Germany on February 7, warned of confrontation in light of NATO expansion. “NATO’s course on strengthening its military potential and expanding its military presence and infrastructure on the alliance’s ‘eastern flank’ as well as an increase in the number of exercises near the Russian borders creates additional tensions, provoke confrontation and undermine the whole system of Euro-Atlantic security,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

2015 began with some sort of victory for President Vladimir Putin. He inaugurated the new Eurasian Economic Union, meant to be similar to and to compete with the European Union, but even that started on the wrong foot. The countries making up the new union are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan. Yet, the Business Insider of December 31posted an illustrative article entitled, “Russia starts the New Economic Union on New Year and it already looks like a Disaster.” Belarus, for example, a pivotal member, has criticized Moscow for blocking its commerce with Kazakhstan. As retaliation against Western sanctions, Putin banned many imports from Europe but could not prevent Belarus from importing and resending such goods to Kazakhstan.  However, on their way, many such goods are sold in Russia thus, sabotaging Putin’s response to the European sanctions.

According to Reuters on December 31 Vladimir Putin, the former KGB colonel, has sacrificed the political and economic freedom of the Russian people for the idea of old-style Soviet glory. But he only brought Russia close to economic collapse. Yet, opinion polls show that his ratings are near record highs among average Russians. There is a deep streak of imperialism in Putin’s Moscow and of irrational nationalism among Russians that defy reasoning and threaten world peace. Will Russia withdraw from Ukraine and renormalize its relations with the West or will it turn inside and toward China and risk a confrontation with the West? Ukraine is again the bridge between East and West. Will that bridge hold?


Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.