In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. To the West, Russia’s aggression is a threat to international law and state sovereignty and the Crimean Crisis is not the only justification for this sentiment. Russia’s invasion of Georgia, their backing of Assad, their aiding of Iran’s nuclear programme, their cyber attacks on Estonia, Putin’s imprisonment and killing of dissidents and his quote that the collapse of the USSR was a “geopolitical disaster” fuels this growing discontent. But is Russia really a threat to European security?
Although there has been a long history of Russian aggression, some cases can be justified. Taking the annexation of Crimea as an example, the Russians see it as an acceptance of a secessionist movement. With over 62% of the peninsula ethnically Russian and 84% recognising Russian as their native language, Crimea’s declaration of independence from Ukraine is unsurprising. European jurisprudence sees differently:
“To concede to minorities, either of language or religion, or to any fractions of a population the right of withdrawing from the community to which they belong, because it is their wish or good pleasure, would be to destroy order and stability within States and to inaugurate anarchy in international life”. (Raič, 199)
From the Commission of Rapporteurs, we see the international community’s disinclination to accept secessionist movements. This standpoint is also reflected in the case of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia; only 56% of UN member states recognise Kosovo as independent. Interestingly, 82% of EU member states recognise Kosovo. Perhaps Europe’s is antithetical attitude towards Crimea’s situation is due to some seeing Kosovo’s case as sui generis thus Crimea’s rationale that they are following the precedent set by Kosovo is rejected. The situation is clearly not an open-shut case but from this example, we see there are two sides to Russia’s “aggression”.
Russia’s wars in Ukraine and Georgia can also be seen as a manifestation of their fear of “encirclement;” EU and NATO expansion into Russia’s sphere of influence is a threat to Russian security. NATO’s raison d’être is far removed from what it does now and this is most effectively displayed cartographically:
Here, we see NATO’s expansion into the erstwhile Eastern Bloc. One of the most recent members to join NATO is Albania; an ex-member of the rival Warsaw Pact.
The media’s portrayal of the bellicose Russian Bear, especially in America, is an omission of one important point: Article 5 of The North Atlantic Treaty which states an attack on one ally is akin to an attack on all. This one principle of collective defence is enough to ensure Russia does not act aggressively upon any NATO country (neither Ukraine nor Georgia are NATO members) lest they trigger a reaction from the USA whose military power and unilateralism is a potential threat to every country on earth. Furthermore, there is no obvious gain from attacking any European country and although Russia is ranked second on the GFP list with a ‘power index’ (a measure of military capability) of 0.1865, closely behind America’s 0.1661, this is no match for the amalgamated military capability of the whole of NATO. So with motivation, ability, and difficult to justify cases of past transgressions lacking, Russia is not a threat to European security- at least for the time being.
By Priscilla Alao