So the question is if Ukraine’s military-political integration into the West amounts to crossing of a Russian red line, then why didn’t Vladimir Putin intervene back in 2008 when Viktor Yushchenko was not only much more aggressive in pushing for Ukraine’s military-political integration into the West than the current interim government in Kiev, but also secured pledge from NATO that Ukraine will be its member one day? Afterall, Russia has been arguing for quite a while that Ukraine's military-political integration into the West would constitute crossing of a red line that Moscow has drawn long ago, as it is clear from the following statements:
Putin in 2007: “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?… why is it necessary to put military infrastructure on our borders during this expansion? Can someone answer this question? Unless the expansion of military infrastructure is connected with fighting against today’s global threats?” (Kremlin.ru, 02.10.07).
Putin in 2008 “The presence of a powerful military bloc on our borders, whose members are guided by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty will be seen as direct threat to our national security.” Warning that Russia would react strongly to expansion of NATO to Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Putin said: “Let us be honest with each other — we will treat you as you treat us.” (Hindu ,04.05.08).
2009 National Security Concept Through Year 2020: “A determining aspect of relations with NATO remains the fact that plans to extend the alliance's military infrastructure to Russia's borders, and attempts to endow NATO with global functions that go counter to norms of international law, are unacceptable to Russia.”
2010 Defense Doctrine: “The main external military dangers are: a) the desire to endow the force potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc.”
2013 Foreign Policy Concept: “Russia maintains a negative attitude towards NATO’s expansion and to the approaching of NATO military infrastructure to Russia’s borders in general as to actions that violate the principle of equal security and lead to the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe.”
Back in 2008 then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko was actively and publicly pushing for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. His aspirations to enter Ukraine into NATO during his presidency fell flat when the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 didn't give Kiev a membership action plan. Nevertheless, didn't Yushchneko and George W. Bush actually crossed the redline when NATO announced at its April 2008 summit in Bucharest that Ukraine would eventually join the alliance one day?
In comparison, the current interim government’s drive for political- military integration into West was far less obvious – all they did is announce their desire to sign the EU association deal which has graphs on military cooperation (See Appendix). Also, while Russian authorities cite among reasons why they decided to intervene the current interim government’s half-hearted and abortive effort to cancel the special status of the Russian language, Yushchenko never granted such a status in the first place.
I suspect there are multiple reasons why Putin didn’t intervene in 2008, but intervened in 2014. Back in 2008 the conditions were not as conducive for immediate response to that crossing as they became after the “Euro-revolution” in February.
In 2008 Russia lacked a plausible excuse (the current perceived threat by victorious ultra-nationalists in Kiev to ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine) and the fact that the Yushchenko government refused to give the Russian language special status didn’t qualify as an excuse on its own.
More importantly, Ukraine had a legitimate popularly elected leader and a functioning government that could organize a much better response to covert intervention and could do a better job rallying support abroad. And when the April summit was taking place, the 2008 world financial crisis was yet to fully explode to convince Putin that the West was declining, and, therefore, diminishing further his desire to seek partnership with the West. He was also busy facilitating ascent and stabilization of his interim caretaker Medvedev in the Kremlin. He might have also considered that Georgia’s NATO ambitions represented a greater threat, especially as Saakashvili sought escalation in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia throughout 2008. Moreover, as time went by, the redline was “uncrossed” when Yanukovych beat Yushchenko in the 2010 elections, immediately announced Ukraine will not seek membership in NATO and extended stay of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Crimea.
In short, for a redline to become real, conditions have to be in place, enabling the leadership of a country – that has earlier hinted at existence of a red line (non-obvious redline) – to calculate that their country is now able to enforce that redline, and, therefore, prompting them to assert unambiguously that it is a real redline and even make clear how it would respond if it is crossed.
The alternative explanation could be, of course, that while being a nationalist Yushchenko didn’t represent as much of a threat to Russian speakers in eastern and southeastern Ukraine as the current interim government, in which some of the key posts in the national security and law-enforcement agencies were occupied by representatives of political parties that had very strong anti-Russian views.
But I doubt it was the desire to defend the rights of Russian speakers that alone prompted Putin to intervene, especially, given that the interim government was not actually violating those rights on a massive scale. Rather, he saw his calculation – that the Feb. 21 deal would be honored and that there would be an early election, in which either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko (whom he repeatedly described as someone he could work with even while she was in prison, which should come as no surprise, given the exorbitant price she agreed to pay for Russian gas while still a premier in what made Ukraine even more vulnerable to pressure from Russia) – destroyed by implacable opposition, in which anti-Russian ultranationalists played the lead role. He believed that anti-Russian ultranationalists would eventually win the ensuing battle for power since they were the ones who ousted Yanukovych and then would proceed to anchor Ukraine to the West, and he decided to act while the chaos of late February presented an opportunity to do so in a way that would remind Kiev that Russia can dismember Ukraine if it tilts toward the West and would also allow him to score huge domestic points, which he needed as economy stagnated, by taking the land absolute majority of Russians consider to be Russian land.
Security component of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is covered by the following articles of the agreement:
1.The Parties shall intensify their joint efforts to promote stability, security and democratic
development in their common neighbourhood, and in particular to work together for the peaceful settlement of regional conflicts.
2. These efforts shall follow commonly shared principles for maintaining international peace and
security as established by the UN Charter, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 of the Conference on
Security and Cooperation in Europe and other relevant multilateral documents
Conflict prevention, crisis management and military technological cooperation
1.The Parties shall enhance practical cooperation in conflict prevention and crisis management, in particular with a view to increasing the participation of Ukraine in EU-led civilian and military crisis management operations as well as relevant exercises and training activities, including those carried out in the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy(CSDP).
2.Cooperation in this field shall be based on modalities and arrangements between the EU and
Ukraine on consultation and cooperation on crisis management
3. The Parties shall explore the potential of military technological cooperation. Ukraine and the
European Defence Agency (EDA) shall establish close contacts to discuss military capability
improvement, including technological issues.
The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), which Article 10 refers to above, has been expanded by the Treaty of Lisbon to “gradually establish a common European defence” and which introduces “a mutual defence clause, specifically binding EU Member States. If a Member State is the victim of an armed attack on its territory, it can rely on the aid and assistance of the other Member States, which are obliged to help.
Two restrictions moderate this clause:
- the mutual defence clause does not affect the security and defence policy of certain Member States, specifically those which are traditionally neutral;
- the mutual defence clause does not affect the commitments made under the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The agreement refers to “relevant exercises and training activities, including those carried out in the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP),” but it CSDP itself is fledgling. Moreover, as pointed out above, CSDP says “the mutual defence clause does not affect the security and defence policy of certain Member States, specifically those which are traditionally neutral” and Ukraine could be described as traditionally neutral because:
- Ukraine’s July 1990 declaration of independence says: “Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic solemnly declares his intention to become permanently neutral state which does not participate in military blocs.”
- Ukraine has been outside military blocs throughout its entire 20+ years as an independent state.
- Also Ukraine’s Constitution bans presence of foreign bases. (“The location of foreign military bases in the territory of Ukraine shall not be permitted.”)
But one can describe Ukraine as a traditionally neutral country, this neutrality is not codified in Ukraine's constitution, so potentially further down the road Ukraine could be involved in common defense with EU if CSPD becomes more than just a paper tiger.