is Intervening in the Security Matters of Other Former Soviet States
Domestic pressures and Mutual Aprehensions Impair Russia-Ukraine Relations
Leaders Supporting a Strong Russia are Gaining Power in Russia
Force Redeployments, Reorganizations, and Reductions are Affecting the Readiness of Russian Forces
In 1992, Russia was reluctant to interfere in the security problems of other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev initially established a policy of non-interference, in an apparent effort to curry favor with the West--on which, Kozyrev believed, Russia was critically dependent for economic assistance. Kozyrev believed that the foremost threat to Russia's security was economic and political isolation, and that Russia could overcome this threat only through economic and diplomatic integration into the Western dominated international system.
This policy, however, was soon challenged by those who believed that Russia had to rely upon itself for its security and place in the international community. This group argued that Russian security policies should focus on protecting Russia's vital interests--especially in the area they called the "near abroad" (that is, the former Soviet Union)--rather than on integrating into an international system controlled by the West.
The debate between Kozyrev and the advocates of a foreign policy based on defending Russia's own vital interests continued for almost two years. It ended abruptly early in the morning of October 4, 1993, when President Yeltsin rushed to the Ministry of Defense to implore the military to put down the rebellion in the streets of Moscow. In exchange for the military's support, Yeltsin evidently made several concessions--including acceptance of a security policy based on Russia's vital interests.
Despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' position prior to October 1993, however, many of Russia's policies regarding the CIS during that period were apparently made by individual ministries based on bureaucratic interests and proclivities, not official state policy. At the same time, moreover, Russia displayed a tendency to provide military support throughout the region in a manner that weakened the authority of the other Soviet successor states.
It is important to note, however, that Russia's determination to be involved in security matters throughout the "near abroad" has not been entirely unwelcome. Many Soviet successor states in the Caucasus and Central Asia are having major problems in establishing their sovereignty and look to Moscow for support. This is reflected in the fact that Russia has sought and achieved troop stationing agreements with most of the states in the "near abroad," and in the increased interest within the CIS in new forms of political, economic, and security cooperation.
Moldova. Immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, former Soviet armed forces stationed in the Trans-Dniester Region of Moldova began to actively support Dniester activists seeking independence from Moldova. In May 1992, Russia asserted its control over these units, and in June, Major General Aleksandr Lebed was placed in charge of the Russian forces of the 14th Army stationed in the Trans-Dniester region. On July 29, Russian peacekeeping forces were deployed to the Trans-Dniester region in accord with a Moldovan-Russian agreement. Russian forces remain in the region, and negotiations between Russia and Moldova indicate that they will remain there for several more years.
Georgia. In June 1992, President Yeltsin and Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze signed an agreement on settling conflicts in the region. A month later, they agreed to send Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian peacekeeping forces into South Ossetia, where they remain today.
In August 1992, Russia also sent forces into Abkhazia, a former autonomous republic under Moscow's control that has resisted integration into an independent Georgian state, in order to evacuate Russian tourists caught between Georgian and Abkhazian warring factions. After the evacuation, Russian forces remained in Georgia, ostensibly to keep the peace, after Georgia and Russian signed an agreement on September 3, 1992, calling for the complete neutrality of Russian forces and pledging Moscow's respect for Georgia's borders. Nevertheless, the Russian military reportedly provided support to Abkhazian forces throughout late 1992 and 1993. Moreover, Russia actively sought to broker a negotiated settlement to the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict during the winter of 1992-93, and even refused to finalize a friendship treaty with Georgia in the spring of 1993 until progress was made in settling the Abkhazia conflict.
Russian involvement in the conflict took a turn in October 1993, when Georgia sought Russia's help in overcoming internal armed opposition to the Georgian government. This led to a treaty between the two countries regarding Russian basing rights in Georgia, which in turn paved the way for Russia to perform peacekeeping functions along the Georgian-Abkhazian border. Russia's role as peacekeeping "facilitator" was recognized by the U.N. Security Council on July 21, 1994, in UNSC Resolution 937.
Tajikistan. Russia also became involved in Tajikistan's conflicts after anti-Islamic, old-guard political forces achieved victory in the Tajik civil war in December 1992. On January 22, 1993, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan agreed at the Minsk CIS Summit to send primarily Russian troops to CIS border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, in order to defend against Tajik opposition attacks from Afghan territory. In a separate operation, the CIS authorized Russian forces to perform peacekeeping functions within Tajikistan.
Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian military activities in Armenia and Azerbaijan have been limited. In accordance with CIS agreements, Russia turned over Soviet military equipment to both countries, and has not become actively involved in their dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. In late January 1994, Russia offered to provide peacekeeping forces to patrol a security zone between the two countries. This offer was not accepted, however, and while Russia continues to express concern over the conflict, it has limited its involvement.
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On December 1, 1991, 76 percent of Ukrainian voters supported Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union, as urged by the newly elected Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk. The primary objective at the time was to wrest control of Ukraine's political and economic destiny from the Soviet central government. Russian and Belorussian political leaders shared this desire to do away with the Soviet central government mechanism. As a result, agreements were signed that abolished the Soviet Union and established the much more amorphous CIS in its place.
Russian political leaders who pushed for the formation of the CIS had intended for the Commonwealth to succeed the Soviet Union as a confederation of states. It was not their intention that the successor states should go their own ways on security matters. Rather, Russia advocated a CIS military structure that would subordinate a major portion of the old Soviet military--including all of the strategic nuclear and naval forces--to a CIS military command responsible to the collective heads of state of the Commonwealth. In January 1992, Russia even went so far as to proclaim that it would not establish its own army, but would rely on forces controlled by the CIS to defend Russian territory. Political leaders in Moscow believed that Russia's political and economic weight would give it the strongest voice in CIS security decisions. Moreover, they feared that the creation of a separate Russian military would upset and alienate the other Soviet successor states.
Moscow was not ready for the Soviet Union to break up so quickly and completely; Russia had merely wanted to replace the mechanism by which the republics were joined together with something less objectionable. Ukraine's declaration in January 1992 that all military forces stationed on Ukrainian territory belonged to Kiev--and its subsequent efforts to convert these forces into an Ukrainian army and navy--came as a surprise to many in Moscow, and presented a major challenge to Moscow's plans for the CIS. In May 1992, Moscow countered by creating its own army, which included many Russian forces stationed in other CIS states. Moscow also challenged Ukraine's claim to nuclear forces and the Black Sea Fleet stationed in the Crimea.
Good Russian-Ukrainian relations require mutual trust on security matters, which has been in short supply. Ukraine's unilateral demands for independence in security matters have hurt communications and understanding. This distrust has nearly turned into open rancor during the negotiations over ownership of the Black Sea Fleet. In particular, the disruptive behavior of the fleet's Russian commanders--such as Admiral Kasatonov, who openly resisted the efforts of Moscow and Kiev to divide the fleet in a mutually acceptable way--has prevented negotiations from taking place in a calm and conciliatory environment. Agreements regarding the fleet reached in August 1992, April 1993, and June 1993 were quickly repudiated by at least one of the parties to the dispute.
In short, relations between Russia and Ukraine have been strained since soon after the CIS agreement was signed in December 1991. Many Russian leaders have not reconciled themselves to the breakup of the Soviet Union. They believe that their own security will be placed in jeopardy if Ukraine moves out of Moscow's sphere of influence on security matters.
Furthermore, domestic problems have distracted them from the task of building good relations with Ukraine. Throughout 1992 and 1993, Yeltsin clashed repeatedly with the more conservative Russian legislature over policy issues and the division of political power between the branches of government. This confrontation, which was punctuated by threats to close down the legislature and counter-threats of impeachment, practically paralyzed the Russian government. Moreover, the struggle for power spread to the provinces, where many locally elected officials were re-cycled communist party leaders who resisted the reform efforts pushed by the president.
Ukrainian leaders, on the other hand, have been hesitant to compromise with Russia, fearing this might open them to the charge of diminishing Ukrainian independence. They tend to blame Russian interference for domestic problems that have not been resolved. And they are paralyzed by major differences within the country regarding how closely Ukraine should be connected to Russia.
The Rukh political party, based in western Ukraine, spearheaded the drive for independence and had a major influence on Ukrainian politics immediately after the break with Soviet Moscow. However, a large number of Ukrainians, particularly in the central and eastern parts of the country, soon began to question the wisdom of policies designed to sever Ukraine from Russia. In November 1992, USIA polls showed 52 percent of all Ukrainians agreeing with the statement that it was "a great misfortune" that the Soviet Union no longer existed.
Russian concerns about possible Ukrainian entry into Western economic and security circles have led it to take steps that undermine Ukrainian independence, such as maintaining economic and political pressure on Kiev as Ukraine struggles with its domestic problems. A prominent example of this economic pressure has been Russia's frequent interruption of oil and gas deliveries to Ukraine, which has resulted in major production problems within Ukrainian industry. Moreover, some political groups within each country have sought to gain political advantages for their cause by pitting the grievances of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine against the resentment many ethnic Ukrainians harbor against Russia.
Further, controversial boundary decisions made during Soviet times--when borders were often drawn without regard to historical and geographic logic--have been revisited, fueling mutual distrust. Of particular note in this regard is the issue of Crimea's political status. Historically a part of Russia, Crimea was arbitrarily removed from Russia's jurisdiction by Khrushchev in 1954 and made part of Ukraine. The population, however, remains largely Russian and the region has strong ties with Russia. The peninsula is also the historic home of the Black Sea Fleet, and as such has major naval bases and support facilities that are of value to both countries.
Crimean political activists who favor increased autonomy and even independence gained a major victory in the local Crimean presidential elections of January 30, 1994, when Yuriy Meshkov--an outspoken advocate of Crimea's return to Russian control--won with 73 percent of the vote. Those favoring increased autonomy also easily won the parliamentary election conducted on March 20. Crimea's new parliament voted on May 20, 1994, to restore the controversial Crimean constitution of 1992, which had been put aside because Kiev objected to the degree of autonomy it claimed for Crimea. Crimean regional leaders tend to look to Moscow, not Kiev, as their protector.
The split between the western part of the country and the central and eastern parts has plagued Ukrainian politics since independence, causing policy gridlock and hamstringing Kravchuk's administration. The western part of the country has been primarily concerned with establishing Ukrainian independence from Moscow and moving the country into Western Europe's sphere of influence to the greatest extent possible. In contrast, the eastern part of Ukraine, in which most of Ukraine's ethnic Russians live, has been more willing to cling to Russia for economic as well as cultural reasons. The economic base of the eastern part of Ukraine was strongly connected to Russia--and heavily subsidized by Moscow--in the Soviet Union. Thus, managers in this part of the country have been unprepared and unwilling to reorient their largely obsolete industries in the direction sought by the Ukrainian nationalists of the west.
Resistance in the eastern part of Ukraine to the economic reforms and nationalism favored in the west led to the openly stated suspicion that Moscow was using ethnic Russians in the east to sabotage Ukrainian independence. Political infighting between the nationalists of western Ukraine and the pro-Russian and reform-resistant population of central and eastern Ukraine have stymied policy making in Kiev, leading to economic stagnation, domestic strife, and the diplomatic suspension of Ukraine between Eastern and Western Europe--without a clear foothold in either.
On July 10, 1994, Leonid Kuchma won Ukraine's presidential run-off election, gaining 9.8 million votes to Leonid Kravchuk's 8.9 million. Kuchma, who stood for closer relations with Russia, won in all regions of eastern, east central, and southern Ukraine, while Kravchuk, who ran as a nationalist, won in all western and west central regions. While this outcome may help to defuse tensions with Moscow on some issues, it may also lead to increased internal tension if Ukrainian nationalists push to the fore the issue of asserting their country's independence vis-a-vis Russia. External tensions with Russia may also increase if the nationalists turn their spotlight on Russian interference in Ukrainian domestic affairs.
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The results of the December 1993 Duma elections were a severe political blow to President Yeltsin, decreasing his ability to exercise the powers he gained under the new constitution and forcing him to make major concessions to more conservative forces. Russia's more-open actions in the "near abroad" and increased role in the former Yugoslavia are a direct result of these concessions.
Since 1992, conservative and even moderate Russian politicians had loudly complained that the Russian Foreign Ministry was allowing the U.N. Secretary General and NATO to exclude Russia from playing a role in resolving the civil war in Bosnia. On February 15, 1994, Yeltsin announced that Russia would no longer tolerate exclusion, and unilaterally injected Russia into the negotiating process by sending a special envoy, Vitaliy Churkin, to Serbia. Churkin's immediate success in getting the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw heavy weapons from Sarajevo not only obviated the need for NATO air strikes against Serbian positions, but inaugurated a new era of Russian involvement in the Bosnian peace process. Russia's subsequent participation in the Contact Group addressing the Bosnia problem reflects an apparent intention to act in concert with the other major powers, rather than as an independent force.
During the last three years, Russian military leaders--particularly Major General Lebed--have also spoken out on regional politics, expressing political views at odds with those of the Russian leadership, even when ordered not to by the Russian president and minister of defense several times since July 1992.
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Starting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's December 1988 announcement at the U.N. of unilateral force reductions in Eastern Europe, the Soviet--and now Russian--military has experienced a series of major redeployments, re-organizations, and reductions. The completed force withdrawals from Germany and the Baltic states at the end of August 1994 did not end the process. Russia is still involved with internal redeployments and troop reductions.
The reductions in nuclear arms called for by the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) Treaty are being implemented on schedule, considerably reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear missiles under Moscow's command. The reduction has also been accompanied by re-targeting agreements with the United States that eliminate peacetime targeting of U.S. sites and reduce the combat alert status of some units. Russia and China have also agreed not to target each other in peacetime.
General purpose forces, whose training has been severely reduced, have experienced considerable degradation in their combat readiness. Those units that have maintained a high degree of readiness have been used to conduct domestic and international peacekeeping missions.
Moscow also lost control of some of the Soviet Union's best military equipment when Ukraine and Belarus declared their ownership of all general purpose forces stationed on their territory. For the most part, these forces had been formed from equipment evacuated from Eastern Europe in accordance with the 1988 Soviet unilateral reduction announcement and the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Additional, newer items of equipment were removed and stored east of the Ural mountains in order to meet the CFE limits, considerably diminishing the military forces west of the Urals under the control of Russia in comparison with its Soviet predecessor of a few years before.
The current Russian active duty military force, while capable of protecting Russia's borders from any short-term threat, no longer has the ability to project force into the heart of Europe. Russia's navy has also lost much of its power projection and sustainability capabilities.
Russia is, however, fully capable of rebuilding a force that could threaten its neighbors. With four or five years of determined mobilization, Russia could reassemble a force capable of threatening other countries located near its borders. Remobilization, however, does not appear to be high on the agenda of any of Russia's present political leaders. Reductions in Russia's active duty military force do not threaten Russia's stated defensive goals, even though the Russian general staff undoubtedly feels a need to improve combat training. Moreover, shifts in Moscow's military intentions would undoubtedly be preceded by perceptible changes in political leadership.