Kyiv, May 14, 2015. The outcome of the meeting between NATO foreign ministers that took place on May 13 in Turkey demonstrated the Alliance’s increasing attention to the Black Sea region. Representatives of countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stated they realized that the current balance of power in the region leaves Russia as the chief beneficiary. Such a viewpoint was articulated by participants of the “Militarization of Crimea as a threat to Europe’s collective security” discussion supported by “Free Crimea” at Ukraine Crises Media Center.
Taras Berezovets, founder of the Free Crimea project, noted that Russian military threat poses dangers not only to NATO member-states, but also to the citizens of Ukraine in Crimea and the rest of the country. “A number of features reveal the gradual militarization of the peninsula: the number of Russian troops stationed there reached 40,000, while Russia’s intentions to place nuclear weapons in the Feodosiysky area is a more dangerous step, considering that even the Soviet Union did not have nukes there,” said Taras Berezovets.
Hryhoriy Perepelytsia, international security expert, said that previously NATO focused on the regions that did not constitute a direct threat to the Euro-Atlantic security. Such a policy resulted in an emerging threat that came in the form of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. “When NATO loses the status-quo in the regional balance of power, it loses influence on the entire region,” Mr. Perepelytsia said. However, despite the alarming situation, he doubts that NATO is going to revise its strategy in the Black Sea region and Ukraine in particular anytime soon. “This region is crucial for Russia due to the opportunities to spread its geopolitical influence to the Balkans, the Middle East, Iran as well as the Caspian Sea Mediterranean regions,” Perepelytsia said.
The experts described the militarization of Crimea as an attempt to solidify its influence on the ground and prevent it from returning to Ukraine. Any desirable scenario for Ukraine is unlikely the mid-term perspective – Crimea becomes a military fortress. This has manifested in the deployment of shore-based cruise missiles, modern anti-aircraft systems and increase of land forces. “I think, the aviation group will be changed and reinforced with powerful operative-strategic bombers in the nearest time. Their range covers all of the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans,” Perepelytsia predicts. He also noted that Russia has tripled the share of its control over the shore through the occupation of Crimea, virtually assuming an undisputed supremacy in the Black Sea region.
“If Russia introduces such a powerful aircraft as TU-160 to Crimea, it will be able to control both the Arab region, reinforce its presence to India and cover the Red Sea, reaching the Indian Ocean,” noted Ihor Koziy, military expert at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. Koziy is confident that these ambitions go back to Russia’s Soviet past, however, it would need to create an additional Command Center to fulfill its ambition.
Serhiy Dzherdz, Head of the NGO “NATO-Ukraine Civic League”, emphasized that NATO avoids decisive steps and clear-cut statements in current situation when probability of using the military potential of Crimea against Ukraine is still possible. “In case of a large-scale offensive on Mariupol, in may be well conducted from Crimea,” Dzherdz said. He admitted that the problem is more likely to be resolved via political and not military means. “NATO’s policy should have been directed towards joint effort with the EU – reinforce pressure on Russia by cutting financial aid, introducing strict sanctions and increasing pressure on the Russian economy,” Serhiy Dzherdz said. He has also agreed with the view that the military potential of Crimea can be used against Ukraine. “It is Kremlin’s long-standing policy of divide and conquer – using the enslaved people to attack other enslaved people. For example, Chechens and Buryats are sent to fight in Donbas against Ukrainians. Now Crimean youngsters will be conscripted to the Russian Federation Armed Forces. It is another signal for the West and NATO that should realize if Russia enslaves Ukraine, it will use all its potential against Europe and the Alliance,” he highlighted.
Oleksandr Musienko, Head of the Center for Military and Legal Research, mentioned another existing threat: Russian subversive groups who currently train in Crimea. These groups are transferred to eastern Ukraine, and could be used to commit terrorist acts in other cities across Ukraine.
Moreover, Russia uses tactics of oppression, signalizing the build-up of totalitarian society. Such methods aim to spread fear to destroy the agonizing civil society and any opportunity for resistance. “The alliance of the FSB and the criminal world to which Crimea’s de-facto authorities are connected is even more dangerous than a centralized authority of the security services, as criminals are ready to go much further to acquire recognition,” Oleksandr Musienko said.
According to Grygoriy Perepelytsia, Crimean population will suffer from the military oppressive regime. In the long run, however, the power will be transferred from the local criminal underworld to the security services. “Military administrations will hold all of the political leverage on the peninsula; the practice of closed cities will return, while the peninsula transform into a segregated territory entirely controlled by the Russian authorities,” Perepelytsia concluded.