3 Russian Intentions |
30. It is much easier to describe
Russia's forces, military options, and doctrine, than it is to
define Russia's intentions. Commentators differ markedly on whether
Russia constitutes a significant threat to its neighbours or to
NATO. One school of thought maintains that it is very important
to understand Russia's point of view. They often emphasise that
NATO and EU expansion into traditional Russian 'spheres of influence'
has been provocative, and rash; argue that Russia's actions are
defensive and understandable; and even imply that Crimea was 'really
part of Russia anyway.' Generally, this position tends to favour
a de-escalation of a conflict with Russia; resist any military
measures which might 'restart the cold war'; encourage cooperation
with Russia in the Middle East in particular; emphasise other
threats elsewhere in the world, for NATO and the West (such as
Islamic extremism); and, portray Russia as a potential strategic
31. In the context of our report,
for example, Lord Richards, the former Chief of the Defence Staff,
told us that he did not believe that separatists in Ukraine were
being orchestrated by Moscow.
He emphasised the historical Russian claims to Crimea.
The former Secretary of State has made it clear that he views
terrorism not Russia to be the greatest threat to the UK, a view
shared by Lord Richards.
32. The other position, traditionally
taken by the Baltic states and other former Warsaw Pact membersbut
following Crimea, now by a group of commentators in the UK and
the USportrays Russia as a substantial threat. Following
the annexation of Crimea, the Secretary General of NATO, Anders
Fogh Rasmussen has described Russia as "speaking and behaving
not as a partner, but as an adversary."
He went on to say that
In recent weeks, Russian officials
have accused NATO of breaking its promises, interfering in Ukraine's
internal affairs, and escalating the crisis. It is time to see
these claims for what they are: a smokescreen designed to cover
up Russia's own broken promises, interference and escalation.
33. The Secretary General of NATO
has rejected claims that Russia was motivated by NATO enlargement,
emphasising the intensive engagement between NATO and Russia which
resulted in the NATO-Russia Council. 
Sir Andrew Wood also discounted any theory that Russia was responding
rationally to a NATO threat. He argued that the real threat to
Russia lay in Ukraine becoming a more credible democracy than
34. Edward Lucas of The Economist
portrayed the Ukrainian intervention as part of a wider campaign
by President Putin to consolidate his power base by
whipping up a sense of xenophobia
and a sense that Russia is a besieged fortress, that the West
is out to get Russia and has cheated Russia, and that Russia has
suffered multiple injustices.
35. Edward Lucas also suggested
that the main reason that Russia is concerned about Ukraine moving
towards becoming a part of the EU is that the reforms which would,
by necessity, have to take place, would result in Ukraine becoming
"law-governed, prosperous, democratic, with economic and
He notes that the existence of a stable democracy on Russia's
borders would present an existential threat to Russia by highlighting
the deficiencies in the current Russian system. 
36. The former Foreign Secretary,
the Rt. Hon. William Hague told the House of Commons that the
motivation behind the annexation of Crimea was "to restore
a comment supported by Major General (Ret.) Neretnieks of the
the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences.
37. In evidence to us, it has been
suggested that another motivation is that the military action
taken by Russia was in response to President Putin's declining
popularity. Protests in major Russian cities in 2011 followed
Parliamentary elections which were widely criticised for being
rigged. This combined with the recent slow down in the economy
had made the Russian President vulnerable and his popularity ratings
had dropped to below 50%.
Following the annexation of Crimea, President Putin's approval
ratings have increased to 80%.
A number of our witnesses suggested that we might see a repetition
of such operations in response to future waning of the President's
or in response to internal troubles within Russia.
38. Regardless of the merits of
Russia's case, or Putin's motivation, Russia has consistently
asserted a right and legal and moral duty to protect ethnic Russians
who live abroad. This lay behind the Georgian intervention. The
claim has been made that the revolution in Ukraine endangered
Russian ethnic minorities in the country and it was on that basis
that Russia sent troops in to Crimea and to the Ukrainian border.
39. The arguments of some our witnesses
suggest that instability inside Russia, a threat to Putin's power,
or a steep decline in his popularity, might also create the precondition
or provide the temptation towards more aggressive action in the
name of Russians outside Russia. This is of particular concern
for the Baltic States which have significant ethnic Russian populations.
Sir Andrew Wood, a former Ambassador to Moscow suggested that
the most likely area of attack would be the Baltic States although
he believed it would be an asymmetric attack rather than a direct
41 Q107 Back
Q325; 99 Back
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General, NATO De-escalation starts on the ground,
April 2014 Back
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General, NATO 'The Future of NATO: A Strong Alliance in an Unpredictable World',
Chatham House 19 June 2014 Back
HC Deb, 18 Mar 2014 : Col. 655 [Commons Chamber] Back
Major General (Retd.) Karlis Neretnieks (TND0019) Back
P17, Russia, Ukraine and the West: Is Confrontation Inevitable?,
Chatham House Back
Russia's humanitarian actions vs Western military interventionism: Tskhinval is not Tripoli, Crimea is not Kosovo,
The Voice of Russia, 21 March 2014 Back