European Relations with Russia

Threat Perceptions, Responses, and Strategies in the Wake of the Ukrainian Crisis

by Stephanie Pezard, Andrew Radin, Thomas S. Szayna, F. Stephen Larrabee

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Research Questions

  1. Do European states see Russia as a major security threat, and, if so, what is it that Russia might threaten?
  2. How have European states responded to date — either individually, through the European Union (EU), or through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?
  3. How might these policies change if Russia takes even more aggressive steps in the future?

Russia's illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea in March 2014 has challenged the integrity of Europe's territorial borders and confirmed after the Georgia war in 2008 that Russia could react violently to perceived challenges to what it regards as its sphere of influence. This report first examines how European states perceive Russia's behavior in eastern and northern Europe, and whether they regard Russian policy and behavior in these regions as an important security priority. We identify a number of fault lines within Europe with regard to threat perceptions and further analyze whether these divides extend to perceptions of NATO and the United States. NATO members closer geographically to Russia appear to be most concerned by Russia's aggressive behavior, and are concerned that the Alliance is ill equipped to respond to the current crisis. Second, the report analyzes how European states have responded to Russian behavior. While European states generally agree that a firm response is required, they are also eager to maintain open channels of communication with Russia. Finally, the report examines how European states intend to shape their relationship with Russia in the future; what existing measures they intend to keep in place; what new measures they might implement; and prospects for NATO and EU expansion. This future relationship is based on a general understanding that relations with Russia have changed irremediably; tensions are unlikely to recede anytime soon; and future actions toward Russia will depend on Russian behavior.

Key Findings

Perceptions of Russia as a Military Threat Differ Sharply Across Europe and Appear to be Heavily Influenced by Geographical Proximity to Russia

  • Some of Russia's neighbors see Russia as capable of and potentially willing to carry out a conventional attack against them but do not necessarily see such an attack as likely.
  • Some European countries, particularly eastern NATO members, are concerned that the Alliance is ill equipped to respond to the current crisis with Russia.

European Countries Have Adopted a Broad Range of Measures in Response to the Ukrainian Crisis

  • That Russia's behavior requires a strong response is widely accepted by most European countries.
  • NATO has begun its adaptation to the new threat environment.
  • Responses to Russia's strategic communication efforts and internal destabilization efforts have been limited.
  • While agreeing on a firm response to Russia's aggressive moves, most European countries have also made sure to pursue dialogue with Russia on Ukraine-related issues as well as other matters of mutual interest.

European Officials Interviewed Generally Agreed on Three Key Elements that Shape Their Current Relations with Russia and Likely Will Continue to Do So in the Near Future

  • Relations with Russia have changed irremediably.
  • Tensions are unlikely to recede anytime soon.
  • Future actions toward Russia depend on Russian behavior.

Recommendations

  • The Department of Defense should take a serious look at Russian capabilities to politically subvert a Baltic state, including the seizure of a border enclave and/or fomenting internal unrest. DoD could use political-military games to understand the potential Alliance difficulties in reaching consensus, the options open to NATO, and the time required. More-detailed assessment of the Baltic internal security forces and their ability to deal with potential subversion contingencies also would be valuable.
  • DoD should seek a better understanding of the Russian ability to prevent reinforcement to the Baltic States; DoD could subject some of the "unusual" scenarios, like the seizure of Gotland, to modeling and simulation. Similarly, for sustained air operations over the Baltic States, how important does access to Swedish (and possibly Finnish) airspace become?
  • DoD should seek a clear view of the role that Kaliningrad might play, with its strong antiair defenses; how would NATO neutralize them?

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Perceptions

  • Chapter Three

    Responses

  • Chapter Four

    Intentions

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusion

  • Appendix A

    List of Interviews

  • Appendix B

    Guidelines for Interviews

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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