On 08 June 2015, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a report on its activities in 2014 and subsequent plans in the medium term. The report is at present, available here in Russian, with ITAR TASS summing up some of the key points in English here.
In this document, Russia expresses concern over NATO taking events in Ukraine as pretext to increase its military potential and presence in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region, as well as the expansion of military drills near the Russian border. The document further states that when the security situation exists as it is now, Russia has the right to take necessary steps to protect its security and national interests.
In addition, the document calls for the American government to stop hostile action against Russia, stating both nations have special responsibilities for the maintenance of international peace and security. Furthermore, the document states Moscow is keeping the EU at the forefront of its foreign policy in the coming years, stressing the importance of the Council of Europe in keeping European nations united.
Another key point of the document is that Russia will, if necessary, challenge the legitimacy of what it calls ‘anti-Russian’ sanctions at the World Trade Organization.
The release of the Russian MFA’s document comes as the G7 talks wind down in Germany, which Russia has been excluded from since Crimea became part of Russia in 2014. American President Barack Obama has said that one of the items on the agenda would be “standing up to Russian aggression,” and that the duration of sanctions against Russia should be tied to the implementation of the Minsk agreements and respecting Ukrainian sovereignty. Furthermore, it appears that Germany, Britain and the United States are looking to offer support to EU nations that may be tempted to back off on sanctions due to the impact it might have on domestic economies, which becomes an important topic of discussion as the EU’s sanctions are set to expire at the end of July 2015.
Currently, NATO exercises are happening with increasing regularity near Russian borders, sanctions are remaining in place and a tough stance is still being taken against Moscow. However, little has changed over the course of the last year and the West’s approach seems to be fairly ineffective. Russia has shown that under present circumstances, it will strengthen its armed forces, increase exercises and show a presence near NATO’s borders.
Of course, NATO is within its rights as an organization to hold exercises in member states, set up soldier exchanges, establish joint bases, etc, all up to its eastern most borders, especially if member states feel threatened. But by the same logic, Russia has the same right to do the same within its borders and those of its allies. As President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Corriere della Sera, “I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO.” Putin went on to claim that several countries (left nameless but likely directed towards the Baltic nations) were taking advantage of people’s fears to become “front-line countries” in what he suggests is a bid to get aid of some sort, whether military or economic.
At this point, both sides are continuing to posture for position, which does not have the most positive outcomes for concerned nations. There has already been a significant hit to diplomatic relations between countries, coupled with deteriorating economic cooperation through sanctions and military build up. Continuing down this path can only lead to increasingly poor relations and a worsening security situation in Europe due to a lack of trust.
NATO and the EU need to remember that Moscow will not sit idly by while it views hostile actions are being taken against it. By the same token, Moscow must remember that the two organizations to its west have to balance the economic and security interests of all member nations and that may not coincide with Russian interests.
However, the West has made it abundantly clear that things cannot begin improving until there is progress in the Minsk agreements. Progress may eventually be made towards these agreements, but given the release of this latest document from the Russian MFA, it will not likely be in the near future as the trust to move forward simply does not exist at this time.