There was much outrage in Europe and the USA towards the Russian move in Crimea in 2014. The crisis in Ukraine was largely predictable, however, as the Cold War has continued in security policy. A background article by Stefan Bernhardt
Europe shows how self-sustained the Cold War is: In principle, Russia and the EU and NATO still maintains an uncooperative relationship. Almost a quarter century after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the relationship between the East and the West remains characterized by distrust. A situation like the Crimea crisis in 2014 was only a question of time as not only the EU's Russia policy has been failing to establish purposeful engagement, but also its cooperation with Russia in the area of international security. It is especially the West that missed important opportunities for an increase in security, cooperation with the Kremlin and disarmament.
Build-up to the threat
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, NATO has set the building block for the massive distrust that Moscow has towards the Alliance. NATO missions were restricted to the territory of its member-states and to self-defense during the Cold War. With the end of the Soviet Union, this principle was changed drastically. The concept of out-of-area missions allowed NATO missions outside of alliance territory. This allows NATO to conduct missions in regions or countries when for example important resource delivery routes for NATO members are blocked. This makes Russia as an important supplier of resources for European NATO-members a potential legitimate military target.
NATO's eastwards expansion increased the Kremlin's distrust and let NATO appear potentially dangerous. While the Warsaw Pact dissolved, NATO was maintained as a military alliance although it – much like the Warsaw Pact – lost its original raison d'être. Moscow expected a dissolution of NATO and Russian politicians like Mikhail Gorbatchov insist that this had been orally arranged with the West. This mixture led to a feeling of threat in the Kremlin over time, which NATO simply ignored and therefore destabilised Europe's security.
Confirmation of the threat
A key trigger for the Crimea crisis and the lowering of the threshold for the Kremlin to use a crisis like the one in Ukraine for its own purposes was Kosovo's independence as well as the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. Contrary to international law, Russian protests and ignoring the UN Security Council, the West supported Kosovo's separation from Serbia. This created a precedent that later allowed the Kremlin to support Crimea in its effort to separate from Ukraine.
A further important catalysing factor in the crisis was the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. Although then-president Mikhail Saakashvili had repeatedly threatened the separatist regions since coming to office, increased military expenditures to 40 percent of overall Georgian state expenditures until 2007 as well as massively increased arms purchases – including from NATO members – the West reacted almost exclusively Russia-critical. Even when the Kremlin removed its troops from the Georgian heartland early in April 2008 and Georgian troops started the conflict in August 2008 – confirmed in the EU report from 2009 – NATO as well as the EU assigned blame to Russia all the way throughout the conflict. NATO froze all dialogs, even the NATO-Russia Council, originally designed to maintain dialog throughout a crisis. A situation in which the EU and NATO reacted counterproductively, just like currently in Ukraine. Apart from confirming the Kremlin's distrust in the West, the war in Georgia exposed how the West reacts: outraged, Russophobic, hysteric, unwilling to negotiate, unwilling to react militarily, and above all, incapable or little capable of any form of action. Moscow is taking advantage of this knowledge in the Ukraine crisis.
The Kremlin's relationship with the West has been a story of missed opportunities since the end of the Cold War, which could have prevented the current conflict in Ukraine. Russia missed the opportunity to work through its Soviet past with Eastern European countries like Poland, one of its biggest critics who is afraid of a militarily expansive Russia since the end of the Cold War. Poland's power should not be underestimated. The country advocates for a stronger engagement of the West in the post-Soviet states, which could have been softened by a Russian foreign policy initiative focusing on trust building. Moscow made the mistake to ignore the Eastern European states with their fears and thus created a strong Russia-critical block in the West.
Disarmament is the second area in which competition between West and East has replaced cooperation. The West let the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) fail to push Russia out of Moldova and Georgia, although the countries were not subject of the treaty. While Russia ratified the treaty in 2004, Western states simply signed but refused to ratify it. The refusal to disarm further fueled distrust. The annulation of the Anti-Ballistic-Missile Treaty (ABM treaty) by the USA in 2002 also signaled that the West would prefer to confront Russia militarily.
A new security policy
The Russian move on Crimea should not have surprised anyone, and neither should have EU involvement in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution. There is no concept of security policy in Europe that engages all actors and establishes trust-building measures at the same time. The current situation resembles rather a power competition between two blocks. If the events in Ukraine are not to repeat themselves, Europe's security policy has to change drastically. This includes trust-building measures as well as a security policy which includes the EU, NATO and Russia in equal parts.