FPI Fact Sheet on Russia’s Military Intervention in Ukraine

March 4, 2014

I.  Key Background

Days after the collapse of Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s government in Kyiv, thousands of Russian troops violated Ukrainian sovereignty and took control of the Crimean peninsula.

  • On February 27, 2014, pro-Russian forces seized government buildings in the regional capital of Simferopol.  The following day they expanded their control to include airports, communications hubs, and other vital infrastructure.
  • On March 1, 2014, Russia’s upper legislative house, the Federation Council, approved a request from President Vladimir Putin to allow Russian troops to enter Ukraine.  Russia claimed that its actions were in response to a threat from “unidentified gunmen directed from Kyiv” against a government building in Crimea.
  • On March 2, 2014, Russia claimed it had established “complete operational control” over Crimea, according to a senior Obama administration official quoted by the Wall Street JournalRussia’s Ambassador to the United Nations said 15,000 Russian troops are in Crimea.

Administrative control over Crimea was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954.  As FPI Researcher Hannah Thoburn wrote on March 3rd: ” Although the administration of the region was transferred from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (S.S.R.) to the Ukrainian S.S.R. in 1954, the residents of Crimea maintained their cultural and familial connections with Russia. The 1991 fall of the Soviet Union sent Crimea into a turmoil from which it has never truly recovered and introduced several factors now significant in today’s political crisis.”

  • Eastern regions of Ukraine voted in favor of independence in 1991.  As the Wall Street Journal reported on March 2nd: “The eastern regions of Ukraine are Russian speaking but they voted handily for Ukrainian independence in 1991. No serious separatist movement existed there before this weekend.”
  • Moscow has spent years cultivating ties with individuals and groups in Crimea.  As the Wall Street Journal reported on March 2nd: “Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin political strategist, visited last month before Mr. Yanukovych's fall to meet with local leaders. Mustafa Jemilev, a deputy in Ukraine's parliament, said Moscow had long been funding pro-Russia groups and giving them a media platform.”

The Obama administration repeatedly warned Russia against intervening in Ukraine.  As President Obama warned on February 28th: “[T]he United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”  President Obama added: “[A]ny violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.  It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people.”

  • Secretary of State John Kerry said on February 28th:  “We believe—National Security Advisor Rice has made it very clear and I made it clear—that intervention would, in our judgment, be a very grave mistake.”
  • Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on February 27th:  “We expect other nations to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and avoid provocative actions.  That’s why I’m closely watching Russia’s military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they announced, as you know, yesterday.  I expect Russia to be transparent about these activities.  And I urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation during a very delicate time, a time of great tension.”
  • Ambassador Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor, warned on February 23rd:  “[Russian intervention] would be a grave mistake.  It is not in the interest of Ukraine or of Russia, or Europe, or the United States to see the country split. It is in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

Russia’s actions in Ukraine could violate the intent of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security AssurancesThe document states:  “The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

II.  Putin’s Pattern of Aggression in Eastern Europe

Russia threatens to raise gas prices to punish Ukraine.  As the Wall Street Journal reported on March 4th:  “Gazprom Chief Executive Alexi Miller on Tuesday told state television the company would cancel Ukraine's special price discounts starting in April.”

  • Ukraine’s economy is heavily dependent on Russia.  As the Los Angeles Times reported in February 2014: Russia “could inflict intense economic pain on Ukraine should it choose to crack down. Moscow supplies all of its oil and natural gas, and is involved in other trade with Kiev. Russia already has slowed deliveries to an oil terminal on the Black Sea, and is hinting that it might restrict imports of Ukrainian agricultural products.”

Russian troops invaded Georgia in August 2008.  As former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council Damon Wilson wrote on March 3rd:  “Vladimir Putin has done this before.  When he invaded Georgia in August 2008, Western diplomacy and pressure denied him his ultimate goal: marching to Tbilisi and deposing Georgia’s democratically elected government.  But Putin seized two areas, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that Russian troops occupy to this day.”

  • Moscow later recognized Georgia’s breakaway territories as independent.  As The New York Times reported in August 2008: “The Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, declared in a nationally televised address that South Ossetia and the other pro-Russian enclave, Abkhazia, would never again have to endure what he described as oppressive Georgian rule.”

III.  Russia’s Confrontational Foreign Policy

Since Syria’s civil war began three years ago, Russia has actively provided Syria’s Bashar al-Assad with arms and other military equipment.  Secretary of State John Kerry said on February 17th: “I regret to say [Assad’s forces] are doing so with increased support from Iran, from Hezbollah, and from Russia. Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be contributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they’re, in fact, enabling Assad to double down, which is creating an enormous problem.”

  • News reports suggest Russia increased arms shipments to Assad in recent months. As Reuters reported in January 2014: “In recent weeks Russia has stepped up supplies of military gear to Syria, including armored vehicles, drones and guided bombs, boosting President Bashar al-Assad just as rebel infighting has weakened the insurgency against him, sources with knowledge of the deliveries say.”
  • Russia has supplied Assad with helicopters and spare parts.  As The New York Times reported in February 2014: “Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, said the Assad government was using Russian-supplied Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters to carry out the barrel-bomb attack in Homs. Russia, he said, is most likely providing spare parts such as engines, transmissions and rotors, which may explain Mr. Kerry’s specific reference to how Russian weapons are fueling the war.”

Russia has provided Assad diplomatic cover at the United Nations.  As Reuters reported in January 2014: “Russia, joined by China, has also vetoed three Security Council resolutions that would have condemned Assad’s government and threatened it with sanctions.”

  • On January 8, 2014, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council statement that would have condemned Assad’s use of airstrikes and “barrel bombs” against civilians.
  • On December 19, 2013, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council statement that would have condemned Assad’s use of missiles and “barrel bombs” against civilians.
  • On June 1, 2013, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council declaration that expressed alarm over the deadly situation in al-Qusair, Syria.

In the Middle East, Russia has attempted to “fill the vacuum left by the departure of American troops from Iraq and the toppling of U.S. allies in the Arab Spring revolts.”

  • Russia and Iran could soon strike an oil-for-goods agreement, according to diplomats. As AFP reported in February 2014: “Ambassador Mehdi Sanaei said the two close trading partners have been negotiating Iran’s delivery of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day since a meeting at a regional summit in September between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his counterpart Hassan Rouhani.”
  • Putin said he would support Egyptian Army Chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s bid for Egypt’s presidency.  As Reuters reported in February 2014: “Russia is looking to take advantage of strains between Cairo and Washington, which has withheld some of its annual aid to Egypt after Sisi ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president Islamist leader Mohamed Mursi last year.”
  • Russian energy giant Soyuzneftegas reportedly signed a $90 million deal with Syria’s government.  As Reuters reported in January 2014: “Russian oil and gas company Soyuzneftegas signed a $90 million deal with Syria’s oil ministry in December for oil exploration and production in a 2,190 square kilometers (845 square miles) bloc of Mediterranean waters off the Syrian coast between Tartous and Banias.”

Russia granted former U.S. government contractor and admitted leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum for one year in August 2013.  Moscow ignored repeated pleas from U.S. officials to return Snowden to the United States where he faces espionage charges.

  • Moscow extended Snowden’s asylum in January 2014.  As CNN reported in January 2014: “Now Russia says it will continue to extend asylum protections to Snowden and won’t send him back home.  That word came Friday from Alexy Pushkov, a legislator who is head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma, Russia’s lower house. He spoke about Snowden at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”

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