The Crimean Conflict

KIEV/BERLIN | | ukrainerussische-foederation

KIEV/BERLIN (Own report) - As the Crimean crisis escalates, the German Navy is dispatching one of its spy ships to the Mediterranean. The "Alster," which had already been carrying out espionage on the Syrian war zone, is reported to have sailed from its homeport. Whether it will pursue a route through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea remains the Bundeswehr's secret. With the Crimean conflict, the power struggle over the Ukraine is involving an area of utmost geostrategic importance to Moscow. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is stationed on the Crimean Peninsula, which is considered "Russia's diving board into the Mediterranean," where Russia has increased activities since 2013, seeking to counterbalance the USA. It is already being speculated, that the pro-western putschist government could annul the accord on stationing the Black Sea Fleet, thereby depriving Russia of this strategic position. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow has had to watch how NATO has expanded its position in the Black Sea - with Bundeswehr participation and at the expense of Russia. Crimea's geostrategic importance explains why Germany - unlike in the case, for example, of Yugoslavia - is trying to prevent the peninsula's secession and a rapprochement with Russia by all means.

Fleet Deployment in the Mediterranean

As the Crimean crisis escalates, the German Navy is participating in the international fleet deployment in the Mediterranean. The "Alster," - which had already been engaged in espionage of the Syrian war zone - has, according to media reports, sailed from its homeport in Eckernfoerde and setting course for the Mediterranean. Whether it will pursue a route through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea remains the Bundeswehr's secret. Two German warships are already deployed in the Mediterranean, as part of a NATO detachment; two more are participating in the UNIFIL mission. It was reported that Russia had recently deployed a nuclear-powered cruiser, an aircraft carrier battle group in the Mediterranean. The USA deploys an aircraft carrier battle group and soon probably an additional carrier battle group with two landing ships.[1] In the Crimean crisis, accompanied by the fleet deployment, Germany and all other EU and NATO members are demanding that Crimea not be allowed to secede from the Ukraine and that the country's division be avoided at all costs. The German chancellor reaffirmed this demand last weekend.

German Contradictions

When one recalls Germany's secessionist promotion policy toward Yugoslavia, Berlin's current concern for Ukraine's territorial integrity is anything but obvious. The majority of the Crimea's population speaks Russian, which differs from Ukrainian at least as little as Croatian from Serbian. Apart from the Russian-speaking majority, sectors of the Ukrainian-speaking Crimean minority also feel closer to Moscow than to Kiev. The Russian speaking population is under pressure: one of Kiev's new rulers' first official acts was the abrogation of the law on the status of Russian as the second official language, depriving the Russian speaking sectors of the population of their minority rights. The Kiev government, which seized power illegally, includes fascist forces, which had never concealed their utter hostility for everything Russian. If Germany would apply the same logic, it had applied in the 1990s, when it pushed for the break-up of Yugoslavia; it would have to call today for the Crimea's secession.

Secession Rejected

However, during the 2004 "Orange Revolution," Berlin had already adamantly rejected a break up of Ukraine, where, not only the Crimea but the eastern part of Ukraine as well, could be oriented on Moscow. This was not only because the EU-oriented Western Ukraine is economically the weaker region of the country; geopolitical considerations played a fundamental role.

The Starting Point for Russian Naval Power

These considerations are based, as for example can be read in Zbigniew Brzezinski's 1997 popular classic of modern geostrategy, "The Grand Chessboard." The Ukraine's secession in 1991, "deprived Moscow of its dominant position on the Black Sea," writes Brzezinski. On the one hand, southern Ukraine's Odessa is Russia's "vital gateway to trade with the Mediterranean and the world beyond." On the other, military strategic aspects must be considered as well. Up to 1991, the Black Sea was "the point of departure for the projection of Russian naval power into the Mediterranean." By the mid-1990s, Russia was only "left with a small coastal strip on the Black Sea" and negotiations with Ukraine over basing rights in Crimea, for the remnants of its Black Sea Fleet. At the same time it was observing with evident irritation, joint NATO-Ukrainian naval and shore-landing maneuvers. The expansion of NATO had been a serious setback for Moscow.[2] Finally, about six months ago, a German warship docked in Sevastopol, during a NATO training exercise.

The West is Advancing

In fact, since the 1990s, the West has been incessantly making inroads into the Black Sea area - at Russia's expense. During the confrontation of the systems, Turkey had been the sole Black Sea country that was a counterweight to the Soviet Union, however with the latter's disintegration - and NATO's expansion eastward - the western war alliance has been considerably reinforced in that region. In 2004 - Bulgaria and Rumania had just joined NATO - the "German Marshall Fund of the United States" published a strategy paper, in which the West was laying claims to the Black Sea region. "The wider Black Sea Region is the largest eastern interface toward the greater Middle East for Europe and the transatlantic Community."[3] To counter foreseeable Russian resistance, while avoiding applying a too confrontational or too cooperative policy, a dual strategy should be applied, according to the paper: "with Russia, if possible, without, if necessary." In 2008 Ukraine made an unsuccessful bid to join NATO. The bid failed due to dissention among the western NATO powers. While Washington was clearly in favor; Berlin - seeking an exclusively German-European influence in Ukraine - was adamantly opposed. In June 2006, in relationship to the Crimea, the expert on Russia, Alexander Rahr, pointed out the dangers involved in both - the transatlantic and the German-European - versions of expansion. He warned, "Moscow would hardly give up its naval base in Sevastopol without a fight, and allow its Black Sea Fleet to be blocked inside the Sea of Azov" at the Russian Black Sea coast.[4] He was speaking at the 134th session of Hamburg's Körber Foundation's "Bergedorf Round Table" which was held in Odessa.

Diving Board into the Mediterranean

In light of the current crisis, the German naval expert, Klaus Mommsen, has confirmed the great strategic significance the Crimea holds for Moscow. "For Russia," it serves "as a diving board to the south, that means to the Mediterranean and the Middle East," explained Mommsen. "The distances are very long through the Atlantic" from Russia's Arctic or Baltic coastlines. Should Moscow "actually seek to have an impact on the Mediterranean" it must do so from the Black Sea. The Mediterranean plays "an important role in Russian foreign policy." "The Russians do not want to surrender this region to the US Navy," therefore, it has "revived a permanent Mediterranean fleet" in 2013.[5] The significance of having naval presence in the Mediterranean could be most recently seen during the wars in Libya and in Syria. If the Crimea again falls under stronger Russian control, Moscow would have reliably assured its "diving board into the Mediterranean". After all their efforts, after they even reverted to using fascist elements in Kiev and installed an illegal pro-western regime in a putsch, it can be considered out of the question that Berlin and the rest of the West will idly stand by and allow Russia's geostrategic reinforcement.

More reports and background information on the current German policy in reference to the Ukraine can be found here: Problems of Eastward Expansion, A Broad-Based Anti-Russian Alliance, Expansive Ambitions, Our Man in Kiev, Integration Rivalry with Moscow, On the Offensive and At all Costs.

[1] Krise im Schwarzen Meer. 01.03.2014.
[2] Zbigniew Brzezinski: The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperativs. New York 1997.
[3] Ronald D. Asmus: Developing a New Euro-Atlantic Strategy for the Black Sea Region. Istanbul Paper #2. The German Marshall Fund of the United States 2004. See Das östliche Grenzgebiet.
[4] 134. Bergedorfer Gesprächskreis: Das Schwarze Meer zwischen der EU und Russland. Sicherheit, Energie, Demokratie. 24.-26. Juni 2006, Odessa.
[5] Marine-Experte: Krim ist Russlands "Sprungbrett ins Mittelmeer". 27.02.2014.