Ukraine and Russia: the perceptions and the reality

When a country is attacked by conventional land, sea or air forces, it is usually clear how to best respond. But what happens when it is attacked by a mixture of special forces, information campaigns and backdoor proxies? What's the best response? And how can international security organisations like NATO adapt to these attacks?
Part of the Russian narrative of the past 20 years is that the West reneged on promises not to enlarge NATO membership up to Russia's borders. But this is not a pledge included in any official treaties or agreements. So where did the story come from? Michael Rühle takes on the myths and realities of the Russian narrative.
How much could we have seen the Crimea crisis coming? NATO Review talks to security experts and asks whether there were enough clues in Russia's previous adventures - especially in Estonia and Georgia - to indicate that Crimea would be next.
It's time for NATO to reassess where its relationship with Russia can head next, argues Russia expert Andrew Monaghan. With what has been a poor relationship getting worse, NATO now has to make some hard decisions about its relationship with a country which clearly doesn't like either the organisation or its influence, he says.
New to NATO Review?

In this edition, we try to look at how much misunderstandings (real or deliberate) played in the Ukraine crisis. For example, how much does Russia’s belief that the West had betrayed them over NATO enlargement really explain their actions in Ukraine? And where did this misunderstanding come from? We also look at the type of assaults (militias, information campaigns, special forces, etc) that Ukraine suffered and ask – is hybrid warfare really warfare? And, if it is, how does NATO react to it?

The Cuban missile crisis was a seminal moment in twentieth century. Some of those who lived through it – at a time when news was tightly controlled – recall how they lived in fear and ignorance of how it would unfold. We now know that the whole affair was a very close shave, based largely on misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s private notes, released in 1987 on the 25th anniversary of the crisis, show that his major fear was that the US would try to invade Cuba. In 1961, a disastrous ‘Bay of Pigs’ assault had tried to overthrow Castro’s new Cuban communist regime– and Khrushchev was sure there would be further attempts. He saw positioning missiles in Cuba as an attempt to defend a fellow communist country.

The US meanwhile saw the locating of nuclear missiles on its doorstep as a purely offensive step by the Soviet Union. The world’s two major nuclear superpowers then played out a game of chicken with the highest ever stakes. And all, it seems, on the basis of a misunderstanding of motives and a misinterpretation of the other’s actions.

In this edition, we try to look at how much misunderstandings (real or deliberate) played in the Ukraine crisis. For example, how much does Russia’s belief that the West had betrayed them over NATO enlargement really explain their actions in Ukraine? And where did this misunderstanding come from?

We also look at the type of assaults (militias, information campaigns, special forces, etc) that Ukraine suffered and ask – is hybrid warfare really warfare? And, if it is, how does NATO react to it?

And we look at whether Russia’s relationship with NATO has actually been riddled with misunderstandings for some time. For example, is it true that the lack of a strong response to Russia’s actions in Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008 was interpreted by Russia as a green light to continue interfering in the affairs of its neighbours?

Finally, we look at where this leaves the future path of NATO’s relationship with Russia, which was once a strategic partner. And analysing the lessons of the Cuban crisis might be a good place to start. Because, as we know, those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them.

Paul King