Crisis in Ukraine: Alliance Commitments & Strategic Stability

A Mellon Foundation Simulation Project

Annapolis, MD – 6-8 March 2015

Despite evidence that sanctions have adversely affected the Russian economy, President Putin seems undeterred and is ramping up military operations in Eastern Ukraine.  Reports indicate that thousands of troops and heavy equipment including tanks and “little green men” have crossed into the contested area again.  Western analysts suspect that the Kremlin’s aim is to seize more territory to create a land corridor into Crimea.  The New York Times (23 January 2015) reports, “It has also put to rest the notion that Russia‘s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would be so staggered by the twin blows of Western sanctions and a collapse in oil prices that he would forsake the separatists in order to foster better relations with the West.”

This crisis poses a special challenge not only to the United States, but also to the NATO Alliance. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine has looked to the West to secure its national sovereignty alongside its Russian neighbor. Although Ukraine remains an active “NATO Partner” country, it does not enjoy NATO membership and therefore does not enjoy the formal benefits of NATO’s Article V commitment that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Nonetheless, in the 1994 Budapest Declaration, the U.S., UK, and Russia all affirmed their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, NATO has, since 1994, repeatedly reassured Ukraine both of the Alliance’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and of Ukraine’s access to strengthened consultative mechanisms within NATO.

This simulation proceeds on the basis of “reality” at the start of the exercise (STARTEX), in which:

  1. Russia has de facto control over Crimea (but no clear landbridge to it);
  2. The “Donbas” region of eastern Ukraine is under the de facto control of Ukrainian separatists receiving (at a minimum) political and material support from Russia and with the ever-present threat of direct Russian military intervention;
  3. Sporadic violations of the September Minsk cease-fire agreement, but no major breaches that threaten an escalation to war;
  4. A pro-Western government in Kiev, receiving political and economic support from the West, as well as pressure to find some political accommodation with Ukrainian separatists;
  5. An increased, “temporary” forward NATO military presence in Poland and the Baltic states as part of NATO’s efforts to reassure its eastern NATO members of the continued violability of its security guarantees.

We expect that—once the simulation begins, if not before—there will be:

  1. An increase in violence within Ukraine;
  2. Russian military posturing to signal its determination to protect its vital interests;
  3. Possible non-lethal but disruptive cyber events in Poland and the Baltic states.

In response to this new situation, NATO’s objectives are to:

  1. Fulfill their commitments to Ukraine;
  2. Deter Russia from escalating the crisis;
  3. Reassure allies of NATO’s commitment;
  4. NOT provoke escalation of the crisis through their actions.

Key NATO defense and diplomatic officials gather in Annapolis, MD, to consider their strategy….


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