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Western capitals see the emergence of a Europe ‘whole, free and at peace’, Moscow sees a continent still fragmented, still dominated by bloc mentality (given US influence in European security), and burdened by ongoing conflict.
At the same time, these reassurance measures address only certain more conventional military aspects that the Alliance should be considering, such as the capacity of the Russian military, as reflected in the exercises.Furthermore, for its part, Moscow has denied the build up, stating that it is a rotation of forces, while condemning the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by Ukrainian forces in built up areas in their campaign against the separatists that has led to many civilian casualties and a major increase in refugees.If a deterioration of the immediate crisis within Ukraine itself cannot be ruled out, with all its potential ramifications of civil war in Europe, the intensification of the wider trend of more systemic dissonance is already evident.They may, however, be less effective at addressing other potential types of threats illustrated by the current crisis, and so it may be worth supplementing such measures with a push to complete security sector reforms in new member states.It is also worth reflecting on what Moscow’s responses to these moves might be – not least since the strengthening of “reassurance” will be seen in Moscow to justify the concerns it already had about the move of NATO infrastructure to Russia’s borders.Moscow rejects this and asserts that it is responding to a crisis provoked by the US and EU, and is securing its interests against NATO expansion.
At the same time, these disagreements illustrate two important points.
Second, Moscow may respond by putting existing arms control arrangements under pressure, perhaps by bolstering its military presence in Kaliningrad and Crimea, or by suspending its participation in (or withdrawing completely from) arms control agreements.
Finally, it appears likely that Moscow will continue to hold snap exercises – and a major strategic level exercise, Vostok 2014, is scheduled for September this year.
Although many have focused on the increasing tensions between the West and Russia since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency in 2012 and the subsequent failure of a “reset” in US-Russia politics, in fact the relationship – particularly in terms of European security – has been deteriorating for some time.
Indeed, today’s crisis illuminates very clearly the point that Moscow understands European security in very different conceptual terms from the West.
Where Western leaders have sought to emphasise partnership with Russia, including attempting to develop strategic partnership and the creation of numerous seats at the diplomatic table, Moscow sees itself increasingly isolated, the mechanisms for interaction failing to provide Moscow with a voice.