Though Moscow will likely use a range of covert and public measures to
prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, should the Kremlin fail to halt the
accession of its ally into the alliance, the end result will not be another
By Simon Saradzhyan in Moscow for ISN Security Watch
International Relations & Security Network
Zurich, Switzerland, Friday, December 16, 2005
If there is anything that the hawkish part of Russia’s ruling regime would
agree with Zbigniew Brzezinski on, then it is that Ukraine’s entry into NATO
could bury hopes of Russia re-emerging as a global superpower any time
It is in Russia’s interests as perceived by the Kremlin to either coerce
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s administration into abandoning the
drive for NATO or try to facilitate a regime change in Ukraine to prevent
its further integration into the Western security alliance. This could be
done by boosting financial support for the traditionally pro-Russian
opposition against Yushchenko in eastern Ukraine..
These coercive policy tools are both public and covert and could include
measures such as threats of 100 per cent hikes on gas. Anti-NATO sentiments
could be also incited in the Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, where 70 per
cent of the population oppose Ukraine’s entry into NATO, compared to the
national average of 51 per cent, according to results of an opinion poll
conducted by Russian pollster VTsIOM in late October.
The upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine and the weakening role of
the president thanks to constitutional reforms would also offer the Kremlin
a chance to alter the course towards European integration pursued by
Yushchenko and his allies.
However, should these efforts fail and Ukraine’s entry into NATO become
inevitable, this will not become a showstopper in Russia’s relations with
NATO, Western Europe, and the US in general.
Should Ukraine enter NATO, Russia would probably review and revise
the entire spectrum of its security, political, and economic relations with
Ukraine and other neighbors ahead of this entry to try and minimize the
perceived negative consequences of Kiev’s accession to the alliance.
Russia is likely to stir up anti-Western rhetoric once the process of
Ukraine’s accession to NATO reaches a final stage, but it will likely
neither alienate the US and Western Europe nor try to act as a long-term
While this issue may be used extensively to rally the public on a variety of
domestic and foreign policy matters, the Kremlin seems to realize that the
costs of trying to exact revenge or act as a spoiler if Ukraine does enter
NATO outweigh the benefits.
This is clear even for the hawks in President Vladimir Putin’s team, given
the scope and importance of Russia’s economic and political cooperation
with the US and Western Europe as well as personal business interests
that Russia’s ruling elite has in maintaining amiable relations.
regime change in Belarus that would turn the country into a pro-EU state
with NATO aspirations could become the real showstopper.
Russia would certainly try to compensate for the loss of Ukraine’s already
questionable neutrality by attempting to upgrade the Collective Security
Treaty organization (ODKB) into a full-fledged military alliance with a
standing combat-ready force. The recent statements by chief of the General
Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Yury Baluyevsky indicated that the
ODKB would be part of the Russian military-political leadership’s response
to Ukraine’s entry.
“Attempts are being observed to weaken the Commonwealth through
recruitment of CIS states into NATO,” Baluyevsky said in an apparent
reference to Ukraine earlier this month. “Russia will defend its interests”
vis-à-vis this process, the four-star general told Russian reporters,
Baluyevsky’s remarks followed a warning by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov
that Russia would end military-technical cooperation with Ukraine if it
joined NATO. Security Council chief Igor Ivanov also earlier this month
accused the US and NATO of pressuring former Soviet republics in Central
In spite of this rhetoric, Russia will in all likelihood continue to
maintain bilateral defense and security relations with the most powerful of
individual NATO members, such as the US and “Old Europe” countries,
even if Ukraine does win entry to NATO.
However, Russia may still walk out of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP)
program and force other ODKB members to follow suit, but such a move would
also likely be accompanied by an offer to launch a partnership between NATO
and the ODKB.
It is less probable that Russia would want to withdraw from the Russia-NATO
council, given the relative prestige it gives, as Russia is perceived as an
equal partner in the organization. However, it may similarly demand that it
become the ODKB-NATO Council or alternatively ask for a power of veto
over certain decisions.
In fact, the Kremlin’s policy to try and add the ODKB to the equation became
clear at a recent NATO-Russia meeting of foreign ministers, when Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tried to position himself as representing the
ODKB rather than Russia alone.
While keeping Armenia and other members of the ODKB anchored, Moscow
will likely continue to woo Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan by a
combination of sticks and carrots to try and balance out the strengthening of
Russia may also seek to transform the Shanghai Group into another
full-fledged alliance with commitments of mutual assistance in case of
aggression to further strengthen its position on the arena of the
continental politics vis-à-vis NATO.
On a less grand scale, Ukraine’s entrance into NATO could force Russia to
start withdrawing its Black Sea fleet from the Crimea earlier than 2017,
which is the year the current lease agreement expires. Deputy chief of
Ukrainian President Yushchenko’s secretariat, Anatoly Matviyenko, told a
press conference in Kiev last week that Ukraine might demand that Russia
pay more for renting coastal areas and infrastructure for its Black Sea
fleet in the Crimean peninsular.
Under the 1997 agreement, Moscow is supposed to pay US$93 million a year,
but that gets written off in the lieu of Ukraine’s debt for gas deliveries.
Matviyenko floated this prospect of raising the rent, which can be
implemented only if the 1997 agreement is renounced, in response to Russia’s
demand that Ukraine pay more for Russian gas. Yushchenko – who himself
publicly floated the idea of raising the Black Sea fleet rent this spring –
did not publicly follow up on the threat of his subordinates, and his press
secretary, Irina Gerashchenko, told the same Kiev press conference that the
Ukrainian leadership would oppose linking the gas talks to other issues.
Instead, the Ukrainian president expressed hope on Monday that both sides
would find a “mutually beneficial solution”.
However, while belligerent rhetoric in the gas war will subside sooner or
later, questions on whether the Russian Navy should pull out of Sevastopol
before 2017 will linger as Ukraine boosts its efforts to entry to NATO.
In addition to the navy, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) may also
start feeling the negative impact of Ukraine’s NATO bid soon. In fact, the
RVSN may have to phase out SS-18’s and other Soviet-made ICBM’s, that
Yuzhnoe of Dnipropetrovsk has designed, produced, and contracted to extend
service lives of, according to a report by Nezavisimaya Gazeta earlier this
Similarly, the Russian air force also depends on Ukraine’s Antonov design
bureau and Artyom holding for servicing and extending lives of Antonov
planes and R-27 air-to-air missiles. Ukraine’s Sich Motors is also the
exclusive supplier of engines for Russian military helicopters and Ukrainian
plants supply most of turbo gas engines for Russian warships. However, the
reliance on Ukraine for servicing systems and extension of service lives
will decrease as these and other systems age and get decommissioned.
As for conventional systems, Russia’s military-political leadership fully
realizes that the national defense industry can no longer produce the full
spectrum of weaponry. Therefore, ties with suppliers of non-key elements
of Russian defense systems will not be ended due to such political
considerations, as Ukraine’s membership in the bloc.
As for key future projects, Russia has been already looking for other
partners, such as India, which has been invited to take part in the
fifth-generation fighter project. As for the Black Sea fleet, Russia’s
military-political leadership has realized the inevitability of withdrawing
this fleet from Sevastopol and is investing into construction of new bases
in Novorossiysk and other parts of that Russian coast.
This is more of a financial than a security sacrifice, as regardless of
where it is based, the Black Sea fleet cannot bypass the Bosporus straits if
it is to operate in the Mediterranean or further in the ocean zone.
However, one weak spot remains when it comes to the negative impact that
Ukraine’s entry into NATO would have on the combat potential of the Russian
military, which may find it costly and time-consuming to compensate for loss
of access to the data collected by early warning radars in Mukachevo,
Transcarpathia, and Sevastopol, Crimea.
Whether Ukraine dismantles Mukachevo and Sevastopol radars – as Latvia did
with the Skrunde facility – or re-directs the flow of data to NATO, the loss
of these two radars would deal the heaviest blow to the level of the combat
preparedness of Russia’s strategic triad.
Even with Mukachevo and Sevastopol, the triad’s early warning system is
already half-blind, given the loss of Skrunde and the failure to replenish
the fleet of early warning satellites in what increases the possibility that
the triad could react to a false alarm by launching real nuclear missiles.
But while being tangible, the loss of these two radars easily could be
offset if the Defense Ministry convinced the Kremlin to add the early
warning to the list of priority federal program and wrested enough cash
from the ballooning stabilization fund to build new radars and launch new
According to Aleksander Franchikhin of the Institute of Political and
Military Analysis in Moscow, however, Russia should unilaterally scale down
cooperation with Ukraine regardless of whether the two sides agree on gas
prices this time, as Kiev is seeking NATO membership under the new
leadership and will probably eventually gain entry to this alliance.
First and foremost, Russia should first minimize dependence of its ICBM
fleet and early warning systems on Ukraine, according to both Franchikhin
and Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and
And, while trying to replace Ukrainian subcontractors with Russian ones,
Moscow can leverage with Ukraine because many of the Ukrainian suppliers of
Russian arms makers have no other markets to diversify to and, thus, are as
dependent on their Russian partners, the experts.
In general, Ukrainian industries need Russia as much, if not more, as
Russian industries need Ukraine, as Russia is the largest market for
Ukraine’s industries, such as the pipe and defense industries. On the other
According to Vitaly Shlykov, former deputy defense minister and one of
Russia’s leading independent military experts, Russia should not revise its
arms production cooperation with Ukraine at all over the neighbor’s NATO
membership bid because it can no longer hope to single-handedly design and
produce the entire spectrum of weaponry it needs.
“This spat over gas reminds me of the banana wars fought by the United
States and Europe,” he told ISN Security Watch. “It should not be allowed
to spill over into military-industrial cooperation as no country in the
world can hope to produce an entire range of weaponry, not even the
Moscow, Russia. He holds a degree in public administration from
Harvard University, where he studied international security and wrote a
working paper on nuclear terrorism. He is a co-founder of the Eurasian
Security Studies Center in Moscow.