Romanian analyst: Storing nuclear weapons in Crimea is a red line Russia won’t cross

Paul Ciocoiu | BALKAN DEFENSE | 08.06.2015

Speaking to BalkanDefense, Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanan Academy’s Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, says Russia will not deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea because this will be “an unprecedented escalation”. On the other hand, the Western countries’ red line should be supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainian army, he says in the first part of the interview.

How do you view the overall Euro-Atlantic structures’ reaction in the wake of the illegal annexation of Crimea and the subsequent ongoing crisis in Ukraine?

I have the feeling there was a surprise element. At least on NATO’s level concerning Russia’s actions. I think the reasons are objective which relate to a certain intellectual comfort which the Alliance has in thinking the partnership relation with Russia. NATO was indeed in a partnership relation to Russia therefore no one ever thought Russia would ever give us this present. Secondly, let’s not forget we are talking about a change of guard, of generations. The former analysts NATO had during the Cold War are no longer in posts, there is a new generation which no longer sees Russia as the former Soviet Union, respectively aggressive and which dealt in geopolitical games in zero sum – we win what they lose and they lose what we win. Thirdly, NATO is no longer the Alliance it used to be from a military capacity point of view. Nor is Russia what the Soviet Union used to be. So NATO has grown into a structure which, for these three reason laid before you, looked in surprise at what Russia has done. And hence this whole reconsideration of its attitude towards the Russian Federation. The second aspect to point out is that NATO’s got a serious problem now in evaluating which danger is stronger: the one coming from the East or from the South. Because these are two entirely different threats: Russia is one thing, Middle East and immigration is another thing. All these European southern flank countries that are now coping with waves of illegal immigration and the effects of the Arab Spring are NATO members. And of course NATO switches agenda based on this pressing reality, this so-called war in the Mediterranean Sea. And NATO has so far made no delimitation because there are countries which see the main danger coming from the East, others see it originating in the South. Many countries in Europe do not see Russia as a direct threat…

…as some polls have recently shown…

…of course! On the other hand, the Eastern countries do not perceive illegal immigration as a security threat. So NATO is now tackling these two types of threats, trying not to include them in a hierarchy.

“NATO has started this long-term process of re-calibrating and re-considering the enemy”

But, the bottom line, NATO was surprised by Russia’s actions, was forced to re-calibrate its attitude and change the Wales summit agenda. But NATO has been so far consistent with its own agenda which is everything which was politically decided in Wales is now being implemented: military drills, NATO commandments, armored vehicles and other capabilities redeployed in the East in a transparent manner. All these measures are on the one hand meant to reassure allies in the region NATO is there to protect them and, on the other hand, to dissuade Russia from moving on because we will react. So NATO has started this ample process of re-calibrating, re-settling, re-considering the enemies which is a real challenge for the Alliance. dan-dungaciu-700x463

…is it a long-term process?

…it is a long-term process because no one is making any illusions solutions to what Russia has done are short-term ones. So, realistically speaking, even though it depends on the international context and political changes in USA, we should expect a long term tensed relationship, which I wouldn’t really call a Cold War type, but some sort of a cold conflict with the Russian Federation. For instance, I don’t believe there will be any talk about Crimea soon. Crimea will be sort of…remember America never recognized the Baltic States being annexed by the Soviet Union. This is the very scenario we will see as concerns Crimea. So, we don’t recognize it, but we don’t intervene either to get Crimea out of Russia’s hands. In favorable circumstances, of course, Crimea will be easily recognized as coming back de jure and de facto in Ukraine’s territory. But at this point Crimea is a taboo topic. And as concerns the Minsk Agreements, which Crimea is not part of, we will probably witness some sort of a Cold War like permanent confrontation, in which each of the sides count on the enemy’s mistakes to gain terrain, but not anything else.

“We will see attempts to define the border between East and West”

So NATO is prepared there will be no war against Russia on that, but at the same time NATO is ready to prove its Eastern border has to be assumed according to the obligations the Alliance has and also hopes populations along it have in this institution. So we will be witnessing attempts to define the limes, as was the case during the Roman Empire which had no linear border, but a limes, a space, one way or another. Who will be part of this limes, whether Ukraine, Moldova or Belarus will be in it, these are the very developments we are now seeing. What is now going on in Moldova, as we speak, are all elements of positioning with a view to configure the future limes which will be the future border between the Euro-Atlantic space and Russia.

Poland and the Baltic States are preparing a joint diplomatic offensive to talk NATO into putting the topic of permanent bases in Eastern Europe on the agenda of the next summit in Warsaw, in July 2016. Are such bases a solution?

Permanent military bases are a complicated solution first because the host country has to assume the jurisdiction of such a base no longer belongs to it. So it is a complicated matter, both technically and politically. I don’t necessarily see this as a solution because I don’t think there will be a military conflict. If this will be a dissuasive decision, that remains to be seen, but I for one see some gestures coming from Russia which are sending out the message it is not trying to go beyond some red lines. I see this stage of adjustment on the part of Russia for the very simple reason Russia has got what it was after. because, in the end, however affected Russia is by the sanctions, no matter what a 19th century type leader Russia may have, we are now concluding this type of leader is pretty effective for this 19th century type. What was it Russia wanted? That NATO’s borders will not extend eastwards. This is the very stake Russia is after. Because Russians make no distinction between EU and NATO because are clever enough to realize EU will never expand to the East leaving these flanks unprotected. How could EU imagine integrating Moldova or Ukraine without these countries to have a security solution? Russian know that this is why they reacted to an EU threat, not a NATO one since they knew it all the same. So they reacted and rendered Ukraine impracticable, so to say. At this point, Russians have gains on the ground, Crimea is theirs, a very important strategic point, also powerful as a signal, especially on an internal level, and secondly there is this separatist regime resembling Transnistria is now being invented in Ukraine and which will always block Kiev’s negotiation process.

Pro-Russian supporters sit on top of a Ukrainian APC after breaking into the territory of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014. Around a dozen Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothes, walked out of the Ukrainian naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday after it was taken over by pro-Russian forces, a Reuters witness said. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

Pro-Russian supporters sit on top of a Ukrainian APC after breaking into the territory of the naval headquarters in Sevastopol, March 19, 2014. Around a dozen Ukrainian servicemen, unarmed and in civilian clothes, walked out of the Ukrainian naval headquarters in the Crimean port of Sevastopol on Wednesday after it was taken over by pro-Russian forces, a Reuters witness said. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (UKRAINE – Tags: POLITICS MILITARY)

So we have this triangle Donbas, Transnistria and Crimea…

So we have this triangle by means of which Russia is holding the Euro-Atlantic border in check. Speaking of this, you have probably recently heard scenarios that Russia may be preparing Moldova a Ukraine-like scenario…these are scenarios coming from people who do not know this region at all. He who says Russia is seeking to wrench Transnistria out of Moldova doesn’t understand what has been going on in this space over the past 25 years. First of all, Russia has Transnistria, it controls it entirely. What’s going on in Ukraine now will not happen in Moldova and vice-versa. The difference between the Russian and the Western diplomats is that the Russian diplomats have been studying these files for 25 years now and know them by heart while Western diplomats came and then went back after a four year posting. None of them have the memory of those files. For Russians, this territory is way more important to them than it is for the West. Crimea is also strategically very important, it cannot afford to lose it. So they made those gains on the ground they had been looking for and have no reason to push it and cross some red lines. Now, they have all the reasons to bring the Big Ones to the negotiating table. This is the Russian leader’s dream – sitting at the same table with world’s leaders. And this why they were so gleeful when Kerry or Nuland traveled to Sochi and Moscow.

But where this complex of inferiority is coming from? Does it date back to Soviet times?

Soviet times, too. Russia is got this morphological excess which finds its source in the ontological deficit. All these ontological deficits lead to someone wanting larger forms, to be recognized accordingly. You know you are a not a world leader and you will probably not be one in the foreseeable time, but you need these forms somehow anticipating the recognition. And they know it and this can save them, especially in the eyes of the population. And hence Moscow’s waiting for negotiations with the Americans. It’s not sufficient to talk to Germany solely because this is an area Germans don’t have any access, beyond the economic file. Germans cannot be part of the nuclear file because they don’t have this type of weapon, Americans do. And this why Russian await talks with the Americans. This is why the conflict in Ukraine is not about Kiev and the separatists, Ukraine and Russia, is about America and Russia. And this is why I don’t see at this point any reason for them to keep pushing the red lines so NATO sets up those permanent bases, to return to you question.

You mentioned the red lines. Is storing nuclear weapons in Crimea one of these lines?

Undoubtedly. This is a mere threat for now because Russians are compelled to answer both for external, but especially for internal use. Let’s not forget they have to account before a public which doesn’t want to see their leaders’ weakness and which is willing to make some concessions so their leaders feed their imperial grandeur feeling. Because if the leaders ask them for sacrifices and do not give them this grandeur in return, then the leaders become unbearable. Imagine Crimea storing nuclear weapons, this means a steep change in regional equation. And if you negotiate Crimea’s return, what do you do? Return it with nuclear weapons on its soil? The negotiations will then take a whole different turn and this is why this will be an unprecedented escalation. And I doubt they will that to this point because this will means all measure have been lost. Crimea now troubles Romania very much strategically and, secondly, in terms of delimitation of the continental shelf. Romania negotiated this line, but did it starting from the premise Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Of course, Romania doesn’t de jure recognize Crimea as belonging to Russia, but de facto…imagine a foreign company going there to drill for oil and the Russian start running their military ships around. What foreign company is willing to this? So we have a big de facto problem with Crimea. But for now, Russia is not raising this issue nor is Romania, because the latter has no reason to do so.

“Saakashvili’s presence in Odessa is a very radical gesture against Russia”

But I have the feeling things could be changed by a factor neither Romania nor Russia foresee – Saakashvili’s presence in Odessa – which is a very radical gesture against Russia. It’s not good news for us because, with Saakashvili there, Crimea is the sole place left for Russia to bug the Euro-Atlantic space. So Saakashvili’s presence there could indirectly create enormous difficulties for Romania because Russia may be compelled to use Crimea as some sort of reaction to Saakashvili’s presence. We should anticipate such a scenario which would trigger further complications for Romania which we don’t need. 27b63a90-04fc-42c4-9b4e-1355bdb28c6f

Again, sticking to the issue at debate now, do you think that, as far as the West is concerned, providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine is also a red line?

I think so. Because NATO’s decision is a collective decision. And this issue raises serious political problems, beyond the technical issues. When you give professional weapons to the Ukrainian army which has shown how it moves on the battle front, because the Russian subdued the Ukrainian army with a handful of soldiers. So where’s 80,000 strong Ukrainian army? This means it has loyalty problems, so who do you give these sophisticated weapons to then? The Army should be loyal and send these weapons to the Russian the very next day. Secondly, it has to be capable of using them. So that calls for serious training. So, loyalty, training and only then you can consider supplying these weapons. And then comes the political decision which is hard to get on NATO’s level. So I see this is an issue which is being kept on the agenda as a means of pressure on Russia, especially by that consistent part of the American decision makers. Because Russia rings a bell in America, there’s this consciousness Russia poses a problem. But if NATO decides to supply these weapons, from the Russians’ perspective, but also from some member states’ view, unfortunately or fortunately, an escalation.