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International Strategy and Future Operations

Spassky Tower in Moscow

REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow

The New Russian-European Condominium: Re-evaluating Canada’s Defence Commitments to Europe

by Lasha Tchantouridzé

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As a result of the August 2008 war with Georgia, Russia has significantly strengthened its position, both in the Black Sea region and internationally. Moscow successfully snubbed the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by attacking and dismembering one of their closest declared allies, which was also an aspirant to NATO membership. Russia also retaliated for the recognition of Kosovo, and, in the process, has asserted its undisputed dominance of the Black Sea basin. The United States, purportedly the world’s only superpower, could do nothing in the face of Moscow’s brazen and open aggression, even when Washington was charged to be part of a war by Russia’s leaders.1 NATO, theoretically the strongest military alliance in history, proved to be irrelevant, and no more influential than initiatives generated by a couple of individual statesmen.2

Russia’s military doctrine, at least, since the 1920s, has been based upon the anticipation of future wars. Post-Soviet Russian military doctrine has predicted that Russia’s future wars will be fought at regional levels in its immediate neighbourhood.3 An updated and clarified version of this doctrine currently under review by the Security Council further stresses this aspect, and accentuates the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear neighbours in what Russia calls the “accelerate to decelerate” approach to regional wars.4 There exists a very good chance that one of the next ‘regional’ wars Moscow currently anticipates would be either with Ukraine or involving Ukraine. Russia’s record of military engagements since the collapse of the Soviet Union clearly demonstrates Moscow’s serious attention to its regional neighbours: a trend more recently demonstrated by the Russo-Chechen and the Russo-Georgian wars that commenced with Moscow’s intervention or participation in the Karabakh war, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia secessionist struggles. While advancing toward its security goals to better safeguard its great power status, Moscow needs to maintain its dominance in the Black Sea, and for this it has to retain its naval base and military presence in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol. Moscow sees NATO enlargement encroaching upon its international status and power, and, in the context of Kiev’s aspirations to join NATO and the European Union (EU), it will do everything in its power to prevent that from happening. Further, its determination and self-confidence to act decisively has likely received a major boost, due to the West’s inaction with respect to the war with Georgia.5

The Yushchenko government refused to extend the lease of Sevastopol to the Russians beyond the current deadline of 2017, but the current Ukrainian president has extended the lease, and, at least for the time being, has turned away from NATO and EU aspirations. Ukraine’s realignment with Russia has completed the Putin administration’s efforts to reassemble the remnants of the Soviet Union as much as possible without lengthy military conflicts. More than anything else, this new assembly of Eurasian states will create a new dividing line in Europe, with Russia and the West having their respective spheres of influence.6

As Ukraine has gone back to Russia, and the Europeans and the Russians move toward a re-invented 19th Century-style international security architecture, this writer believes it would make a lot of sense for Canada to slowly disengage from Europe in terms of its defence commitments. In a multi-polar arrangement, the Europeans and the Russians would be better off to settle things among themselves, either through diplomacy or war. Smaller nations at the fringes of the European-Russian engagement, such as Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and perhaps even those who have recently joined major European organizations, may emerge as losers of the new Russian-European condominium. However, Ottawa possesses precious little to contribute to such future diplomatic or violent regional disputes, especially if the Europeans themselves are quite content with developments. The Europeans have been mostly watching quietly at the processes unfolding in the east despite the obvious problems a revanchist Russia poses to their security and well-being. Most crucially, the United States is gradually relocating its international focus to other regions of the world that are more relevant to its interests, such as the Middle East and the Far East. Such a shift by Washington would appear more acceptable and pragmatic if Moscow were to demonstrate its respect for free trade and financial systems, and provide for market-dictated access to oil and natural gas resources. The latter commitment, however, remains rather dubious as Moscow pushes ahead to its primary objective of establishing exclusive control over the oil and natural gas reserves and infrastructure within the Eurasian continent.7  In short, as major European powers re-prioritize policies aimed at self-preservation and self-help, NATO will most likely become even more obsolescent and irrelevant, and Ottawa’s long-standing defence commitment to Europe may become harmful to Canada’s national interests.

Russian warship at Sevastopol harbour

REUTERS/Stringer Russia

A Russian warship at anchor in Sevastopol harbour.

The International System – Some Important Principles

Of the three levels of analysis normally identified in international relations research, the systemic level explains the best causes of war and conditions for peace.8 The levels of analysis focusing upon individual decision-makers and a state’s domestic political structures could produce interesting insights into a variety of topics, but matters concerning war and peace are best explained at a systemic level, that is, at the level which studies distribution and balance of power among dominant international actors.

The international system is complex, with its own structure and entities. The structure displays variation as the interacting entities engage each other with distinct patterns as great powers rise and fall, and the world order experiences change and transformation. A variety of international actors could have an impact upon any given issue, but it is the governments of sovereign states that are the main actors within the system, with all others being to some degree dependent upon them.9

According to theory, the main units of the international system are the sovereign states, and the distribution of power among them acts as the system’s structure.10 Further, the units interact and thus form structure, and the units and structure comprise the system. The main preoccupation for the states in the international system is survival – this is the main value of the system to which all states adhere. States in the international system do not possess different values, but they all follow the same values, which, besides survival, could consist of power, prosperity, prestige, well-being, and so on. Conflicts among states arise, not because of diverse value sets, but due to different approaches to securing for themselves the same value set. As all states face a certain degree of pressure from international interactions, they struggle to maintain and improve their status within the system.11

Kenneth Waltz of Columbia University is one of the most prominent scholars of International Relations (IR) alive today, and his explanation of international politics remains one of the most advanced and distinct to date.12 According to Waltz, theories of international politics that emphasize age-old concepts of survival, power struggle, prestige, and influence inform the students of international relations much more than other theoretical constructs. Any theory that does not transcend theoretical spheres of discourse is not only useless, but also dangerous: it creates wrong images of the world, promulgates false assumptions, and leads international analysis to erroneous conclusions. States and state-like entities exercise power in the international system to serve, first of all, their own interests. Survival and other abstract values of the international system provide coherence to almost all difficult foreign and defence policy decisions.13

In short, the international system could be described as a set of organized power centres, and the distribution of capabilities among them. The international system affects the behaviour of states, most of which have their respective central governments as the seats of power. States desire to preserve their own territorial integrity and sovereignty, and also that of their allies, while state-like entities want to achieve sovereignty and legitimacy, often at the expense of the already-existing sovereign states.14 Almost all conflicts of the post-Cold War world order have been guided by this struggle between states and state-like entities with outside actors, major powers, neighbouring states, international organizations, terror groups, and so on. The conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Sudan, Chechnya, the Upper Karabakh, Moldova, Pakistan, East Timor, and other places have provided new grounds for concern to those who would like to see their respective states survive the onslaught of proliferating asymmetric actors. In many cases; however, such actors have been created with the participation (often involuntary) of the state actors in question – in most cases, decisions made or forced upon previous governments come back to haunt current sovereign states, or those who act on their behalf.15

The international system is an open system, since it needs close interaction with and support by other systems, most importantly, by the natural environment. To sustain or increase states’ wealth and power, societies need to extract necessary resources from the natural environment, and subsequently, to dump by-products and refuse from the economic production cycle into the same environmental system.16 This close and necessary interaction of the international system with the natural environment furthers depletion of resources, damages the environment, and fosters competition for diminishing natural resources among governments. The existing structural arrangements in the international system currently manifested in globalizing trends both assume the possibility of and encourage unlimited economic growth, while natural energy reserves cannot possibly provide unlimited supplies. The contest for limited and diminishing resources, coupled with unlimited growth goals, also attracts attention to such seemingly remote and insignificant areas as the Black Sea basin.17

The Black Sea Sub-system – A Starting Point for the New Old Europe  

The Black Sea region is a sub-system consisting of a dominant power, Russia, and other regional powers, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine. The United States, a global great power, has interests in this sub-system, just as it does in most other regions of the world. International organizations, such as the OSCE, NATO, and others, more or less represent the interests of European powers, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany in the Black Sea region. The self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the de facto under Russian control city of Sevastopol in Ukraine, also add to power rivalry in the area. Above all, however, Moscow and Washington hold the keys for future occurrences in the Black Sea sub-system, and much will depend upon their decisive or indecisive policies toward other smaller actors.

The Black Sea sub-system carries international significance for all surrounding states, as well as for the international system in general, due to two factors: the strategic importance of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s coastline, and the oil resources of the Caucasus and Central Asia.18 These two closely linked issues dwarf all others in the region, as both the Russian Federation and the United States have primarily focused upon oil and Black Sea access since the collapse of the Soviet Union.19 The retrenching Russian state did enough in the 1990s to maintain its dominant role in the sub-system, and under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, it has assumed a more aggressive and uncompromising approach to it. Some of the most significant disagreements between Moscow and Washington have developed over issues in the Black Sea basin: the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Tbilisi’s current and Kiev’s retracted aspirations to join NATO, the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, and Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent sovereign states.

Of the two factors, coastline and oil, the first, the strategic importance of the sea’s north-north-east and east coastline, holds a vital meaning at the systemic level for the Russian Federation – besides, of course, the states of Ukraine and Georgia, which legally own that portion of the Black Sea coastline. The United States and other great powers do not depend for their survival upon the control of the Black Sea coastline. However, to lose strategic access to the Black Sea for Russia would equate to losing its great power status and prestige. The Black Sea represents the only warm sea access for the Russian Federation, and its key importance lays in Sevastopol.

A US Marine scans the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti

REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A US Marine scans the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti from aboard the USS Mount Whitney, 5 September 2008.

Even during the Cold War, Russia/the USSR managed to maintain an almost exclusive control over the Black Sea. Georgia and Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, and Bulgaria and Romania were members of the Soviet/Russian dominated Warsaw Pact. In fact, during the Cold War, the Black Sea was regarded as its internal sea by Moscow, especially since its dominance there was not challenged by the West, because the US and other NATO members respected both the 1938 Montreux Convention,20 and Turkey’s desire not to pursue confrontation with Russia in the region.21 More recently, with Bulgaria and Romania joining NATO, and Georgia and Ukraine becoming aspirants for joining, Moscow has witnessed its ‘internal’ sea gradually turning into an internal lake of its perceived main rival, NATO. Naturally, the Russian leadership displays anxiety regarding such a prospect, and adamantly resists Russian influence being squeezed out of the region.

A scenario which would see Georgia’s and Ukraine’s coastline ending up under NATO control would have devastating consequences for Russia’s great power status. This would mean the loss of the Black Sea naval presence, as well as freedom of access to the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean via the Turkish straits. Moscow would end up with only a narrow stretch of Black Sea coastline, which is neither suitable nor nearly enough space for maintaining a dominant military presence in the region. Turning the Black Sea into NATO’s internal waters would also trigger the abrogation of the Montreux Convention, and, potentially, the international waterway status with respect to the Turkish Straits would also be voided. Even if Russia managed to maintain a Black Sea naval presence in such circumstances, its freedom of movement and manoeuvre would be left at the mercy of a superior NATO navy. Moscow’s sensitivity toward the Black Sea is also heightened by historical developments in the 18th Century that saw Russia emerging as a great European power. Only after the imperial government managed to ‘cut windows’ into the Baltic and Black Seas did such growth become possible.22

By annexing Abkhazia from Georgia, Russia has secured part of the north-east and east coastline, and has assumed ownership and attained control of the old Soviet diesel submarine base in Ochamchiré. Moscow has also authorized an expensive project to make the Novorosiisk harbour suitable for its Black Sea fleet vessels.23 However, Sevastopol will remain a crucial strategic point for the Russian fleet for at least a couple of decades, since even the combined Novorosiisk-Ochamchiré bases would not be able to fully accommodate the fleet needs for maintaining its dominant status in the region. Sevastopol is blessed with a remarkable strategic position in the ‘middle’ of the Black Sea, which allows a naval force stationed there to monitor, control, and address potential threats emerging from any direction.24 Moreover, if Ukraine were to join NATO, it would be naive to expect Moscow to give up Sevastopol without a fight.

Unlike the Russian Federation, the United States does not have vital interests in the Black Sea region. Washington may well rejoice if its priorities with respect to this region prevail, but if they do not, potential negative outcomes would not likely amount to critical threats to the American people. Since the 1940s, US administrations have continuously and persistently pushed for a more interdependent world in both international economic and security relations, and if Russia was perceived by the US to meet such conditions, Washington would not likely risk a direct confrontation with Russia in a manner resembling the 20th Century Cold War. However, if the temptations of returning to its roots as a mercantilist and an autarkic (self-sufficient) empire were to prevail in Moscow, a clash of interests between Russia and its Western global neighbours might well arise. If and when they did, smaller countries at the fringe of Russian and Western influence would most likely pay the price. Such developments could well occur if Moscow were to attain full control of the Black Sea, and thereby establish exclusive access to the oil and natural gas reserves of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Russia is the only great power in the world with an autarkic defence infrastructure – this Moscow has inherited from the Soviet regime. No other major power in the world manufactures and produces everything necessary for homeland defence domestically, including energy resources, fuel, and research and development associated with its military industrial needs. In comparison, the United States depends upon oil (and natural gas) imports for proper generation and expression of its military capabilities. Dependence upon defence-related imports appears even more pronounced for major powers like the United Kingdom and France. These two nations, as well as others of similar stature in Europe and the Far East cannot possibly defend themselves unilaterally against such potential adversaries as Russia or China, the latter being a highly hypothetical adversary, without being members of military alliances, such as NATO, or through treaties, such as with the United States. Moscow, however, needs no alliance/treaty membership to defend itself against any potential aggressor. Its broad, self-sustaining defence capabilities boost Russia’s international position, at least for the coming decade, and buttress its unilateral foreign and defence policies.

Russia’s/the USSR’s unilateral great power policies, which often ran counter to preferences of most of the world during the second half of the 20th Century, were only possible due to the country’s vast oil and natural gas reserves.25 Moscow can sustain regional campaigns at its borders for a number of years in the face of global opposition, criticism, and even partial sanctions. That said, the latter are most unlikely, given that Russia exports large quantities of oil and natural gas,26 not to mention its membership in the United Nations’ Security Council. Such logic guided Russia’s war with Georgia in August 2008, and its heavy-handed policies against Ukraine. Without ready access to cheap oil and natural gas, Russia’s independent-unilateral defence and foreign policies would end – for the first time since the rise of the Russian Empire in the 18th Century. Moscow’s access to oil and gas resources located outside the former Soviet Union largely depends upon Washington’s good will, while the question of priority access to oil and gas fields within the former Soviet sphere of influence, but outside the Russian Federation, continues to be contested with the United States and its allies.

Red Square


Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, 9 May 2008.

A Pointless NATO – From Defence Commitments to Peace Operations

In an attempt to reinvent itself since the end of the Cold War, NATO may well have dug itself a grave – it appears to be acting more as a peacekeeping entity rather than a credible defence organization. Initially, it was NATO’s misguided approach to the Kosovo crisis that helped to propel Vladimir Putin to leadership in Russia, and to initiate a new trend of secessionism in Eastern Europe. In the first half of this decade, NATO failed to make a meaningful contribution to the ISAF forces in Afghanistan, and this has helped the Taliban to stage a comeback. In 2007, the Russian cyber attacks against tiny Estonia went without a response.27 NATO’s irresponsible and indecisive courtship with Tbilisi in the Caucasus, in this writer’s opinion, provoked the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. Currently, NATO’s lack of a common policy or viewpoint with respect to Ukraine risks further destabilization and war in the Black Sea basin.28

NATO started to enlarge in the late 1990s despite vocal protests from Moscow. Again, in this writer’s opinion, it was Russia’s perceived weakness that gave the Western allies a sense of self-confidence and righteousness. Moscow has insisted repeatedly that the process of NATO’s eastward expansion was against its vital interests, especially if the crucial states of Ukraine and Georgia joined the alliance. In response to an expanding NATO, Russia has tried to re-establish its exclusive control over the Eurasian land mass, and the Putin administration has largely accomplished this goal.

To assuage Moscow’s fears, the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act envisioned the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council, which the Russians thought would give them a veto power inside the Alliance.29 Although NATO has never seriously entertained such an idea, Moscow skillfully used political and economic circumstances which occurred in 2008 to effectively block Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Tbilisi and Kiev. Russia has made it eminently clear that it will be ready to use force if left without a choice, while NATO has neither the political will nor the capabilities to intervene in the Black Sea region.

French ship Mistral

REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The French ship Mistral.

Individual major members of NATO have clearly started to pursue policies that may be detrimental to the Alliance. The French government has held talks with the Russians regarding potential sale of the French-made amphibious assault ship Mistral. Russia’s chief of maritime operations and other high ranking officials have openly discussed the advantages of such a vessel in the wars Moscow may conduct in the Black Sea,30 and some others close to the Russian navy have interpreted this purchase as boosting Moscow’s naval capabilities against those of Washington.31 Germany, along with France and some other members of NATO, have been firmly opposed to potential NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, and they made their opposition rather explicitly public at the April 2008 Bucharest NATO summit, and have not altered their position since.32 Many European states are beholden to the energy supplies from Russia, and their opposition to extending formal defence commitments to Ukraine and Russia appear to have been made to please Moscow. Turkey has refrained from critical evaluation of Russia’s aggressive policies in the Caucasus, and has been taking a common stance with Russia against US policies in the Black Sea region.33

NATO may have already become a pointless entity. It definitely risks transforming itself into a faceless and redundant organization in great power politics that promise to dominate the future European security architecture. Except for a brief period in the 1990s, which ended with the Kosovo war, Russia has never seen European politics in any other way but as a power struggle among dominant great powers.34 Now, Moscow holds the upper hand with respect to NATO, and its leaders are quite willing to demonstrate unilateralism in Russian foreign policy and defence initiative by ignoring all the complaining and ‘hot air’ being issued in Western European capitals. It is quite possible that many in Europe really believe that all the rhetoric about cooperation, security, and democratization would be enough to sustain credibility of a defence alliance.

NATO’s inability to do anything effective during and after the August 2008 Russia-Georgia war could be interpreted as a boost to Moscow’s self-confidence. The Alliance could have responded by significantly increasing its permanent naval presence in the Black Sea, tying military deployment there with Russia’s permanent deployment of troops south of the Caucasus Mountains.35 In the absence of a credible deterrence, nothing prevents Moscow from increasing its military control over the Black Sea. The Russians could cite anything, from security to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games,36 to a hypothetical threat emanating from Georgia or Ukraine, to justify any future military actions in the region.

After the events of August 2008, a logical move to help deter any further aggressive policies from Moscow would have been an offer of NATO membership to Ukraine. In other words, an effective action by NATO would have been to create a strategically advantageous position by getting access to the controlling locations in the Black Sea region, and then hold on to them. This window of opportunity existed from August 2008 to January 2010, and it was lost after Ukraine’s new leadership reshaped the Black Sea basin geopolitical landscape with Moscow.37 The Kremlin needs to maintain pro-Moscow people in charge of Ukraine to effectively secure its long-term and perhaps even indefinite presence in Sevastopol. Kiev’s turning toward Russia and away from NATO will further boost Russia’s newly recovered greater power status.

Under Putin, the Russian Federation has managed to reassemble all the former Soviet republics under its control, except for the Baltic States. Georgia and Ukraine had been the most resistant to Moscow’s advances, and Georgia has paid the price by losing parts of its territory to the Russians, while Ukraine ‘surrendered’ through a democratic process. And the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine are very likely to dominate Ukraine’s political scene for the foreseeable future.

As a ‘bottom line,’ the Europeans may well be left facing the Russians on their own, and they may well seek individual arrangements with Moscow, while Moscow may try to play them against each other for its own advantage. After all, the most crucial matters of European security will not be defined by steadfast anti-Russian Ukrainians and Georgians. If absolutely necessary, Tbilisi will manage to find a common language with the Russians, as they have done in the past, and as Kiev has done recently. And when they do, Europeans will have to contend with 19th Century-style European multi-polar power politics with Moscow as a full participant, now without a militant ideology, but nonetheless well-armed and dangerous, brandishing plenty of oil and natural gas reserves, along with the pipelines to deliver them.

Russian invasion of Georgia

REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

The Russian invasion of Georgia, 18 August 2008.


Developments in the Black Sea basin, and in most of the former Soviet Union, are now largely out of NATO’s control. Although Western leaders have consistently rejected the idea of ‘new dividing lines’ in Europe ever since NATO enlargement became a reality, what the Europeans will likely get in the end will be a continent divided between NATO and Russian spheres of influence. Moscow could, and most likely will acquire a stronger voice in European politics without being a member of either the European Union or NATO. This would not only contribute to the extension of Russia’s defence autarky, but would also add more frictions to transatlantic relations within the Alliance. The Americans will be unlikely to argue with the Russians over issues of European policy independence about which the Europeans themselves express no unity. The Obama administration’s disengagement from missile defence obligations in Eastern Europe in the face of fierce Russian opposition, as well as Western European indifference, could be a good indicator of the future US attitude to issues of European security.38 This does not exclude future frictions between the United States and Russia. However, future conflicts between them are likely to remain largely benign and marginal.

Similarly, as a future oil giant, Canada will more likely look elsewhere for more promising trade and policy engagements. European indifference toward their own defence and security issues will not help to address either Afghanistan or Ukraine-related questions, both of which somewhat concern Ottawa. There is nothing to be gained from future close European defence commitments if great power politics were to re-emerge in Europe along the lines of 19th Century European power politics. Transatlantic defence and security relations would be changed as the world moves closer to multi-polarity. However, this will not affect Canada’s ‘soft power’ sentiments. Even with Kiev allied with Russian foreign and defence policy priorities, Canadian disengagement from Ukrainian social, economic, and cultural links seems highly unlikely. The Russians will not try to build a new ideological iron curtain around their area of influence unless their defence priorities are affected. In the end, Kiev might benefit from finding a common language with Moscow, as it would help to avoid war with Russia, the potential loss of Sevastopol, or a break-up of Ukraine.

The new Russian military doctrine makes a ‘preemptive’ nuclear strike against non-nuclear weapon nations an explicit policy of the Russian state.39 Soviet/Russian military doctrines have always allowed for preemptive nuclear strikes, but only in cases of an imminent nuclear attack by the enemy or a conventional attack by an enemy aimed at crippling Russia’s strategic forces.40 This new strategy of preemptive nuclear strike has been emphasized by top Russian officials to give additional weight to Moscow’s threats to defend the interests of Russian nationals with military means both inside and outside Russia. Although such threats are chiefly directed at former members of the Soviet Union, especially Ukraine and Georgia, the Russian Security Council in the new document refers to the West as a potential military threat. Alongside NATO enlargement, Russia’s security chief has named “… [the]struggle for fuel, energy, and other resources with military means,” specifically mentioning the Arctic.41

By both making explicit threats and offering some ‘economic carrots,’ Moscow reduces Western Europe’s will to resort to a military stand-off with Russia or fight with it. In such circumstances, the Europeans are highly unlikely to support Ottawa if Canadian interests are violated by the Russians, for instance, in the Arctic. Although, historically, it has been assumed and expected that North American allies would help European NATO members in times of military threat (emanating from the Soviet Union), currently threats seem to be shifting away from Western Europe, as the latter seeks to accommodate a resurgent Russia. Since European allies have made meagre contributions to NATO efforts in Afghanistan42 where the Alliance has faced a much weaker enemy, their commitment to honour common defence commitments in the face of a much stronger enemy look rather dubious.

In this writer’s view, Moscow will not hesitate to fight a war over the Black Sea, be that war ‘cold’ or ‘hot.’ There is a good chance that it may be ‘cold,’ with new dividing lines emerging in Europe with Russia’s own sphere of influence re-established over most of the former Soviet Union. Moscow’s hegemonic influence over the Black Sea basin remains crucial for its plans, and such hegemonic influence over Eurasia means nothing without the Russian military control over Ukraine’s Sevastopol.

Black Sea Fleet warships at Sevastopol harbour

REUTERS/Sergei Remezov

Black Sea Fleet warships at mooring in Sevastopol harbour.

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Lasha Tchantouridzé, PhD, is a research associate at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, and an adjunct professor at the Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Dr. Tchantouridzé has taught at the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, the University of Regina, the International College of Manitoba, and Norwich University. His many teaching areas include: Strategic Studies, Canadian Foreign and Defence Policy, International Conflict Management, State-sponsored Terrorism, Globalization and the World Economy, Russian and Ukrainian Politics, Regionalism in International Relations, and Comparative Foreign Policy, Ideology, Propaganda, and Politics.


  1. “Putin Accuses US for Orchestrating Georgian War,” CNN Europe, 28 August 2008, at http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/europe/08/28/russia.georgia.cold.war/index.html.
  2. It was the personal initiative of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s telephone call to her Russian counterpart that ultimately brought hostilities to a quick end.
  3. “Voennaia doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Razdel II: Voenno-strategicheskie osnovy,” the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence, at http://www.mil.ru/849/11873/1062/1347/1818/index.shtml.
  4. “Meniaetsia Rossiia, meniaetsia i ee voennaia dokrina,” Interview with the Chairman of the National Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Petrushev, Izvestiia, 14 October 2009, at http://www.izvestia.ru/politic/article3134180/.
  5. A leaflet entitled: “Voin, znai veroiatnogo protivnika!” (“Warrior, Know Your Potential Adversary!”) and distributed to Russian forces during the Kavkaz-2008 war games in North Caucasus just prior to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, warned personnel to expect US and NATO trained and funded combat forces in Georgia equipped with modern weapons. Svanet Cornell and Frederick Starr, (eds.), The Guns of August 2008: Russia’s War in Georgia, (London: ME Sharpe, ND,), p. ix.
  6. Moscow’s policies are along the lines of geopolitical arguments made by new Eurasianists in Russia since the early-1990s.
  7. The importance of being in control of the energy resources of the former Soviet Union has been stressed many times by numerous senior Russian politicians.
  8. Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979).
  9. National and international market institutions exert powerful influence in international politics. Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State, (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 2007). Among other non-state actors with significant influence in the international system are international terrorist organizations, major governmental and non-governmental organizations, and multi-national corporations.
  10. Waltz, Theory of International Politics.
  11. “Everybody’s strategy depends on everybody else’s.” Kenneth Waltz, in Man, The State, and War, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 201.
  12. Francis Fukuyama, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004).
  13. uch recent literature in international relations, written in the so-called critical school and post-modernist spirit, considerably obscures this point.
  14. Wendelin Ettmayer, Alte Staaten – neue Welt: Stabilität und Wandel in den internationalen Beziehungen, (Linz: Trauner Verlag, 2008).
  15. The concept of asymmetric war is frequently used to describe the struggle between strong and weak opponents, while simultaneously claiming, “…[that] asymmetric does not mean unequal.” Rod Thornton, Asymmetric Warfare, (London: Polity Press, 2007), p. 4), and/or application of “… those actions that an adversary can exercise that you either cannot or will not.” Roger Barnett, Asymmetrical Warfare: Today’s Challenge to US Military Power, (Washington: Potomac Books, 2007), p. 15. If either of these suppositions is correct, most wars in history have been asymmetric, as seldom the combat forces have faced ‘mirror images of themselves’ on the battlefields, and hardly ever they have used the same means in battle. Asymmetry has to do more with dynamics of conflict between state and non-state actors, as the non-state actors (mostly insurgents at present) strive to change symmetry between the entry and the exit points of the conflict.
  16. Hence, the on-going and apparently never-ending environmental disputes and negotiations.
  17. Data on world and regional oil and gas production and consumption is frequently published by professional journals, such as World Oil, at http://www.worldoil.com/, and Oil & Gas Journal, at  <http://www.ogj.com/>, government institutions, such as the US Energy Information Administration, at <http://www.eia.doe.gov/>, and those who worry about diminishing supplies generate alarm: The Oil Drum, “World Oil Production Forecast – Update May 2009,” at http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5395.
  18. Natural gas of Central Asia is also hugely significant, but its importance pales in comparison with the considerations surrounding crude oil and strategically significant geographic areas of the sub-system.
  19. One of the major foreign policy decisions by the Bush administration in February 2000 was the endorsement of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipelines the main route for Azeri oil, to which the Russian government had been strongly opposed.
  20. John Daly, "Oil, Guns, and Empire: Turkey, Russia, Caspian `New Oil' and the Montreux Convention," in Caspian Crossroads, Vol. 5, No. 2 (1998).
  21. After the August 2008 war with Georgia, Moscow accused Ankara of violating the Montreux Convention. Alexander Murinson, “Russia Accuses Turkey of Violating Montreux Convention,” Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Analyst, Johns Hopkins University, 15 October 2008, at  http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/4960.
  22. The Russian Black Sea Fleet was founded by Prince Potemkin in 1783, but Russia’s advance to the Black Sea had a long road, which included subjugation of Ukraine, destruction of the Tatar khanate in Crimea, fierce rivalry with Austria for strategic access to the Black Sea, and the sack of Ismail. Gladys Scott Thomson, Catherine the Great and the Expansion of Russia, (NP, Thomson Press, 2008), pp. 130-148; Russell Frank Weigley, The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 355; K. Osipov, Suvorov: A Biography, (NP, Hutchinson, 1944,) p. 87.
  23. RIA Novosti, “Russian Navy must seek alternative to Sevastopol base - top brass,” 18 July 2009, at
  24. Sevastopol ‘faces’ NATO members Romania and Bulgaria in the east, and Turkey in the south. It also permits the Russian navy an easy access to the Georgian coast in the west, and that of Ukraine in the north. As well, Sevastopol controls the access to the internal Russian-Ukrainian Azov Sea, the shallowest sea in the world.
  25. With increasing oil prices and improvements in technology, Russia’s estimated oil reserves have been growing steadily since the early-2000s. “Oil: What’s Russia Really Sitting On?” in Business Week, 22 November 2004, at “Lundin Petroleum Announces Major Oil Discovery in Russia Caspian Sea,” in Gulf Oil and Gas, 7/3/2008. Current estimates are at around 79 billion barrels or 9.42 km3. “Russian oil reserves,” at www.wolframalpha.com.
  26. In 2007, Russia was #2 in oil exports after Saudi Arabia (8 million barrels per day), with around 5 million barrels of crude per day. Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2176rank.html. In 2006, when President Medvedev was deputy head of Gazprom, and Russia’s economic growth was very robust, LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov warned that Russia might have to import light oil products by 2009-2010 if its secondary refining capacity did not improve. RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 10, No. 46, Part I, 13 March 2006. In the second quarter of 2009, the first time since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia, with 7.4 million barrels a day of production, overtook Saudi Arabia (7.25 million barrels a day) as the world’s top oil exporter. “Russia Overtakes Saudi Arabia in Oil Exports,” in Business Week, 9 September 2009, at http://www.businessweek.com/executivesummary/archives/2009/09/russia_overtake.html.
  27. “Russia accused of unleashing cyber war to disable Estonia,” in The Guardian, 17 May 2007, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/may/17/topstories3.russia. NATO’s response was to establish the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.
  28. According to reports of the NATO Secretary General’s travels in Moscow, NATO’s official policy on Georgia and Ukraine since the April 2008 Bucharest summit has been: ‘… [that] Georgia and Ukraine would one day become NATO members when they meet membership criteria.’ In “NATO Chief: Georgia Discussed with Russian Leadership,” in civil.ge, 17 December 2009, at http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=21796.
  29. Many Russians expected NATO to transform as a result of the NATO-Russia partnership. J. L. Black, Vladimir Putin and the New World Order: Looking East, Looking West? (NP: Rowman & Littlefield,  2003), p. 153.
  30. “Arrival of French Ship Fuels Debate,” in St. Petersburg Times, 27 November 2009, at http://www.times.spb.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=30404, and “FM: Tbilisi Worried over Possible Russia-French Mistral Deal,” in Civil Georgia, 26 November 2009, at http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=21721.
  31. “Arrival of French Ship Fuels Debate.”
  32. “NATO Allies Oppose Bush on Georgia and Ukraine,” in The New York Times, 3 April 2008, at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/world/europe/03nato.html. “French Minister Opposes Georgia, Ukraine in NATO,” in Defense News, 22 October 2009, at http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=3783727.
  33. F. Hill, O. Taspinar, “Turkey and Russia: Axis of the Excluded?” in Survival, Vol. 48, No. 1, Spring 2006; and A. Cohen, C. Irwin, “U.S. Strategy in the Black Sea Region,” in Backgrounder # 1990, The Heritage Foundation, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/RussiaandEurasia/bg1990.cfm.
  34. From the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the Kosovo war, Russia generally took a conciliatory stance towards the West, and Russian leaders often spoke about their “Common European Home” ideas. Martin Abbott Smith, Russia and NATO since 1991: From Cold War through Cold Peace to Partnership? (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 108.
  35. NATO did deploy an insignificant number of vessels briefly, and Moscow accused Ankara of Montreux Convention violations, which, in fact, was an incorrect accusation. Murinson, “Russia Accuses Turkey of Violating Montreux Convention.”
  36. Sochi is situated at the border of disputed Abkhaz territory – the border of the Russian occupied Abkhazia is two kilometers from the main Sochi airport. The city and its environs historically belonged to Georgia, but it was transferred to Russia after the Bolshevik invasion of Georgia in February 1921.
  37. On 16 November 2009, Victor Yanukovich, the leader of the pro-Moscow Regions Party of Ukraine, was leading in pre-election polls, followed by Yulia Tymoshchenko, another likely pro-Moscow leader of the eponymous political bloc, with around 20 percent support. Yanukovich was polling between 20 and 30 percent, while support for the incumbent, Victor Yushchenko, the leading pro-Western Ukrainian politician, was in the range of 3-8 percent. Taras Kuzio, “Ukraine’s Presidential Hopefuls Lay Out Their Programs,” in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, athttp://www.rferl.org/content/Ukraines_Presidential_Hopefuls_Lay_Out_Their_Programs/1877436.html, and “Spravka: Yulia Tymoshchenko,”in Deutsche Welle,  at http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,4890186,00.html.
  38. Moscow responded by scrapping its missile deployments in Kaliningrad and Belarus. “Russia Scraps Missile Deployment After Obama Cancels Missile Shield,” in Voice of America, 19 September 2009, at http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/a-13-2009-09-19-voa9-68709677.html.
  39. “New Military Doctrine to Allow Preemptive Nuclear Strike,” 24 November 2009, in The Other Russia, at http://www.theotherrussia.org/2009/11/24/new-military-doctrine-to-allow-preemptive-nuclear-strike/.
  40. Pavel Podvig, (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001), pp. 49-66.
  41. “Rossiia meniaet svoiu voennuiu doktrinu,” 20 November 2009, in Ekho Moskvi, at http://www.echo.msk.ru/news/635832-echo.html.
  42. Excluding the British, Dutch, and Polish efforts.

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