Model NATO – Response to Russian aggression
Understanding the Crimea Crisis is crucial to developing a strategy for the future of NATO. Since the end of the cold war NATO has developed into a stable Euro-Atlantic community, not faced any serious threats to its collective defense and come to understand Russia as a potential partner. However, The invasion of Crimea has put an end to the understanding of a peaceful and free Europe. Some would even suggest that considering the Georgia Crisis of 2008, Russia is developing grander ambition to restore its previous sphere of influence.
Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Today, it lies at the border between Russia to the East and Nato allies to the West. This unique geographic location has impacts within the country, as the East feels more culturally connected to Russia and the West to the EU and Nato members. This deep national divide is further emphasized by political and economic disparities between the two regions. In the 2010 elections for example, the West clearly preferred the presidential candidate Timoshenko, while the East supported Yanukovych. The origin of this divide goes back to the Russification under Catherine the Great, which includedforced resettlements and language assimilation, all of which had continued under Stalin.
The conflict started to unravel in November 2013 when the President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade deal with the EU and picked a bail-out from Russia instead. Thousands of people started protesting as a consequence, as it was perceived as turning away from the West. The government cracked down hard. Ukrainian politicians eventually removed Yanukovych from power, paving the way for new elections. Petro Poroshenko, who had previously supported the protests, was elected president in May 2014.
However, not only did the country remain divided by close historical and cultural ties to either the West or the East, but Russia feared losing its influence in Ukraine, which ultimately led to the invasion of the Crimea peninsula which also contains major oil and gas resources. Most Crimeans, as most Eastern Ukrainians, speak Russian as their native language and pro-Russia protests sparked in Crimea shortly after the pro-EU protests in Kiev had died down. In response, Russia sent military groups i to support these pro-Russian protests. Crimean politicians called for a referendum through which 90% of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia, which led Putin to announce that Crimea was now part of Russia. The NATO condemned this referendum, called it undemocratic and sanctions followed by the EU and the USA.
Pro-Russia separatists, supported by Russian nationals, then rose up and took over government buildings in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government struggled to retake control and war broke out. Russia continuously denies supporting the rebels with weapons and personnel.
It has been a year since Russia began occupying Crimea and nearly a year since the separatist conflict broke out. Many questions remain unsolved. Russia could destabilize Eastern Europe in the long-term by its ability to threaten or attack NATO members, undermining the post-Cold War international order. Allowing Russia to occupy even a small part of NATO territory would have detrimental effects on NATO’s credibility. Of course, NATO and its member states have already taken notice of, and responded to, Russian aggression, most notably by passing sanctions on the Russian economy, providing non-lethal aid to Ukraine and building a new rapid-reaction force, but these have been tactical moves in response to the immediate crisis at hand, not the wholesale strategic review that is required.