The Occupation of Crimea and the Situation in the Black Sea Region as Viewed by Western Think Tanks

Oleksandr KHARA,
Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies

Ukraine's security policy has long served as a deterrent to Russia's ambitions in the Black Sea region.

Before the attempted illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in 2014, little attention was paid to the region by the governments of Western countries and their scientific and expert community.

The Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation, the modernization of which was prevented by bilateral Ukrainian-Russian temporary base agreements, was primarily a threat to the countries of the "Bucharest Promise" of 2008 rather than to other countries in the region, let alone outside it. For Ukraine, the inactive military threat had lower priority than the war by non-military means: aggressive infiltration by Russian secret services, deployment of soft power tools, preparing centrifugal forces, changing people's consciousness with the help of mass media, and strengthening the economic presence as a lever of influence on the country.

The Russian war against Georgia in 2008 and the occupation of its territories did not lead to the increased attention of great powers to the region.

Perceived as a historical aberration, the aggression became a trigger for finding a model for greater involvement of Russia in European and world affairs ("reset" with the USA and "Partnership for Modernization" with the EU) and taking into account Russia's interests, mostly at the expense of its vulnerable neighbours.

In general, due to the inertia of thinking, the region continued to be viewed through the prism of Russia. The vast majority of Western media outlets with coverage of the region were located in Moscow. Western experts attended Kremlin-organized glamorous forums in large numbers or participated in government-sponsored joint research projects. The illusion of "independence" of the opinion of leading Russian experts and think tanks was not yet completely dispelled, even though the vast majority of them were engaged in the ideological justification of the Kremlin's policy and pandered to its tactical whims.

Until the turning point in 2014, the USA was preoccupied with "endless wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a "turn to Asia," so the country was developing its strategy for deterring China, hoping that Russia would join the Western side, weighing the benefits and risks.

European powers were busy tackling their security problems, pondering the future of the Union, and hoping to overcome the economic crisis, including by using access to Russia's large markets and endless natural resources. The term "strategic corruption" was not yet applied to one of the Kremlin's key foreign policy instruments, and the extent of its penetration into and influence on European affairs remained unnoticed by governments and the expert community.

The Turkish factor seemed an unshakable safeguard against the change in the regional status quo, at least in terms of Western powers' interests.

The attempt to annex Crimea and the proxy war in the Donbas became a strategic surprise for Western governments, intelligence services, and think tanks.

Western think tanks and individual experts began to return to the already forgotten research on Russia. Understandably, former military members and diplomats with experience in the region began to play a rather active role.

American think tanks and experts are leaders among those who systematically monitor the situation in the Black Sea region and conduct relevant research. This can be explained both by the global interests of the United States and the scale of their think tank industry. They are followed by some margin by British and German centres and analysts.

In turn, Russia-oriented individuals and entire think tanks, as well as actual Russian experts and centres working at and with Western institutions, got involved in the ideological struggle. Some of them are trying to provide the "legal" and "historical" basis for the Kremlin's actions while covering the Ukrainian events as an unconstitutional "revolt," a "civil" war, and manifestations of "Nazism." Others, while agreeing with "some" violations by Russia, suggest, giving a variety of justifications, either recognizing the annexation fait accompli and moving forward or reaching a "compromise" that, even on the surface, is no different from the Kremlin's demands from Ukraine.

This study covers publications (books, studies, articles, and expert comments) in English published by leading Western think tanks, included on the Pennsylvania University's ranking list 2019 Global Go to Think Tank Index Report,[1] and well-known experts on the subject, as well as scientific articles and papers from scientometric databases.


The Initial Reaction to and Retrospective Reflection on the Events of 2014

The rapid events of March 2014 caused cognitive dissonance, which led to a belated reaction of the international community to the aggression that unfolded before its eyes.

Western leaders and the expert community were pondering how Moscow's actions related to international law. Who were the actors in a dramatic play if Russia denied its involvement?

It seems they couldn't realize that the leaders of a permanent member of the UN Security Council were able to lie openly and that Russia resorted to blatant violations of the principles and norms of international law, so they tried to assess the "legal," political, and historical "arguments" of the Kremlin on the right of nations to self-determination and the legitimacy of the "will" of the Crimeans and Russian intervention.

Giving a legal assessment to each element of the annexation chain, Christian Marxsen, a senior researcher at Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, concluded that "Crimea has at no point become an independent state: it could not secede from Ukraine since the narrow legal requirements for a right to secession were not fulfilled. Thus, from the perspective of international law Crimea still belongs to Ukraine, whatever the de facto situation may look like."[2]

Reflecting on the principle of territorial integrity and Russia's attempts to redefine the political community so that it falls under the principle of political self-determination, the researcher notes that "international law, however, very much limits the possible arguments that can be invoked to challenge the existing territorial situation," therefore, "it cannot be contested that Crimea enjoys (or – depending on the perspective – has to content itself with) territorial protection as part of Ukraine."[3]

Professor of international law Theodore Christakis cites the example of Crimea to argue that the dilemma between the principles of territorial integrity and the right to self-determination does not really exist because "there is no 'right' to external self-determination and unilateral secession for any 'people' or ethnic group outside the colonial context." Therefore, the "issue of the unlawfulness of Russian military intervention in Crimea and the possible solutions to the fierce conflict between unlawful effectivités and the law" arises.[4]

By the way, the Kremlin's nervous reaction to the fact that the Russians have not been included in the exclusive list of indigenous peoples of Ukraine (the Crimean Tatars, the Crimean Karaites, and the Krymchaks) in the relevant Ukrainian law[5] belongs to the same category as the "argument" on the right of the Crimeans (in the imagination of Russia's ruling elite – the Russians) to self-determination used in 2014.[6]

There is even a study of the invasion of Crimea from the perspective of the humanitarian intervention concept popular in the West in the early 2000s, which was one of the Kremlin's arguments. However, "there is no doubt that the Russian government's understanding of humanitarian intervention has distinctive autocratic traits. Internationally, it acted unilaterally, undeterred by a lack of UN Security Council mandate. Domestically, it acted without prior parliamentary approval." Since there has been no Srebrenica-like massacre in Ukraine since 2014, with which the Kremlin leaders terrified the world and justified the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian armed forces and the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, there are no facts in addition to the null and void legal argument in support of humanitarian intervention. At the same time, it is unknown whether the politicized rhetoric regarding humanitarian intervention and the norm entrepreneurship approach to this issue will continue after the successful seizure of territories.[7]

Quite powerful in terms of coverage of the legal aspects of Russia's aggression against Ukraine are the book Aggression Against Ukraine: Territory, Responsibility, and International Law[8] by one of the leading international lawyers Thomas D. Grant and the multi-authored book by a group of international experts The Use of Force Against Ukraine and International Law. Jus Ad Bellum, Jus In Bello, Jus Post Bellum.[9]

Noteworthy is the legal research by Enrico Milano of the University of Verona about the unused opportunity to apply paragraph 3 of Article 27 of the UN Charter, which provides for abstaining from voting of a Security Council member that is a party to the conflict. In his opinion, not only the non-application of this provision of the Charter, which is contrary to the legal principle nemo judex in causa sua ("no one judges in his case") but also the absence of mention of this in the UN Security Council decision of 15.03.2014 is "a particular type of 'constitutional' transformation of the Charter, based on subsequent, nearly unchallenged, institutional practice, which, however, leaves the 'formal' constitution intact."[10]

However, despite the lost opportunities, legal arguments remain relevant today, as Russia's "expert" and "scientific" community continues to develop a base of alternative interpretations of the principles and norms of international law to legitimize the interests and actions of the ruling elite.

"Russia works hard to create doubts and anxieties on the part of western governments and the public whom they serve, knowing that no democratic country commits readily to support a cause fraught with ambiguity, especially when the relevance of that cause to the country's interests itself is uncertain."[11]

Analysing the military aspects of the capture of Crimea and the Kremlin's political goals, a RAND study assumes that "the political maneuvering on the peninsula during the invasion suggests that it may have been launched without a predetermined political outcome in mind. Russia likely sought to seize Crimea and then evaluated its political options depending in part on how the intervention was received at home and abroad."[12]

The military analyst Johan Norberg evaluates the operation to seize Crimea in a slightly different light, giving credit to the Russian military for their ability to conduct a tactically brilliant, well-planned, and well-executed operation. "The Russians highlighted the importance of seizing the initiative, a legacy of their Soviet military tradition. Their operation in Crimea, which included diversions such as denying the identity of the armed groups of masked men, effectively planting the idea of a Crimean referendum on autonomy, and installing a puppet government in Crimea, underscored the importance of military-political coordination."[13]

Confusion multiplied by sympathy for Russia, as well as erroneous Cold War-era historical analogies, prompted European politicians to tolerate the Kremlin's actions.

Thus, a few months after the rigged referendum, in response to calls from some German politicians to recognize the annexation of Crimea, as well as the proposal of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy F. Mogherini to abandon sanctions, E. Fix and E. Nott of the German Foreign Policy Council called to abandon the idea of accepting the annexation and, conversely, increase pressure on Russia.[14]

German Chancellor Merkel's leadership role has contributed to such a consolidated EU response to Putin's aggression that was difficult to predict. "The degree of Western unity and its ability to agree to a forceful response to Russian aggression in Ukraine has been impressive. Few observers would have thought that the transatlantic community would unite behind strong economic sanctions against Russia,"[15] notes Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Foundation. He also structured the reaction of Western leaders, identifying elements such as abandoning any military component of the response to Russia's actions, growing sanctions pressure, and tireless diplomatic efforts to change the Kremlin's course, as well as supporting Ukraine to increase its resilience.

As historical manipulations have been used by the Kremlin to justify its actions, many experts have turned their attention to covering historical aspects related to Crimea. For example, Chatham House has even created a sort of mini-encyclopaedia, which dispels myths used by Russian propaganda to justify its policies and promote its legal or historical "rights" to Ukraine in general and Crimea in particular.[16] Not only second-tier politicians have resorted to the rhetoric about the original "belonging" of Crimea to Russia and the unconditional "support" for Russia on the part of ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking Crimeans. Donald Trump said that "the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."[17]

Andreas Umland has refuted the claim, still popular in the West, that "the vast majority of the Crimean population had been craving for "reunification" with the Russian Federation, as well as ... the assertion that there were supposedly weighty historical reasons for Moscow's land-grab."[18],[19]

John J. Mearsheimer, one of the leading theorists of the school of political realism, argues that "the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and integrate it into the West."[20]

S. Charap of RAND explained Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election – which looked more like an attempt to justify it − by the "reluctance" of the United States to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, meaning continued support during the Russian armed aggression.[21]

S. Charap et al., under the RAND brand, put forward A Consensus Proposal for a Revised Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia, which, in particular, suggests dividing the continent into three blocs – Western, Russian, and "in-between states."

"Major-power disputes over the status of the in-between states would be resolved cooperatively through the regional security consultations,"[22] whereas Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are offered to agree to a neutral status and a consultation process on resolving "frozen conflicts." Moreover, in the manner of Finlandization, the proposal envisages not only the "voluntary" abandonment by these countries of the pro-Western course but also the resumption of trade and economic ties with Russia, as the FTA signed by Ukraine and the EU contradicts the EurAsEC regime.

The Brookings Institution Senior Research Fellow Michael E. O'Hanlon suggested something similar to the ideas described above: "The core concept would be one of permanent neutrality − at least in the formal sense of ruling out membership in a mutual-defense alliance, most notably NATO. The countries in question collectively make a broken-up arc from Europe's far north to its south − Finland and Sweden; Ukraine and Moldova and Belarus; Georgia and Armenia and Azerbaijan; and finally Cyprus plus Serbia, as well as possibly other Balkan states...The new security architecture would require that Russia, like NATO, commit to help uphold the security of Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and other states in the region. Russia would have to withdraw its troops from those countries in a verifiable manner; after that occurred, corresponding sanctions would be lifted."[23] The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, a senior researcher at the same institute, disagrees with this logic, saying that such ideas are unacceptable for these countries, especially Georgia and Ukraine, which have been subjected to Russian aggression, will not stop Russia's interference in their internal affairs, and will not allow those who want to join the EU to do it because Russia has its own economic project.[24]

Thus, there are still supporters in Western expert circles, although not numerous, of returning to the policy of division into spheres of influence, giving the great powers the right to determine the parameters of the existence of "in-between states."

Although voices have now somewhat subsided, the idea of a single security space from Lisbon to Vladivostok has not been forgotten.

There is a slightly larger group of those who, despite the condemnation of Russia's actions against Ukraine, consider it possible to involve the Russian Federation in solving global problems, such as strategic security or climate change.

Therefore, it's important for Western analysts to shed light on the Kremlin's goals and favourite tactics.

For example, the former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker notes that Vladimir Putin keeps winning because "Russia's president exploits three mistakes the United States makes time and again: a default toward de-escalation rather than confronting aggression; a desire to compartmentalize issues rather than link them; and complacency about the U.S. role in the world, rather than a drive to compete proactively."[25]

Current Situation Assessments, Forecasts, and Counter-Strategies

The capture and the attempt to annex Crimea have reshaped the geopolitical environment in the Black Sea region.

The powerful militarization of the peninsula enables Russia to restrict the entry of its opponents into the Black Sea and significantly reduce freedom of action of those forces and assets that will be in the theatre of operations.

The goals of the Russian Black Sea Fleet go beyond the Mediterranean Sea, and after some time, they will allow it to operate in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Aden, as well as in the western parts of the Arabian Sea, strengthening the existing capabilities of the Pacific Fleet.[26]

"First, the assumption by the U.S. national security leadership that Europe had become a strategically quiet zone in Eurasia...has been overturned...the Army and Air Force will need to revisit their planning assumptions, which have minimized U.S. military commitments to that region since the end of the Cold War...

Russia's military actions in Crimea and in the Ukrainian crisis demonstrated a new model of Russian military thinking, combining traditional instruments of Russian military thought with a new emphasis on surprise, deception, and strategic ambiguity... overt Russian military action against East European members of NATO...cannot be entirely excluded."[27]

Michael Kofman, one of the leading experts on Russian military thought, evaluates Putin's revisionist actions from an interesting perspective: "For Moscow, this confrontation is probably a more comfortable and normal state than the past two decades of cyclical relations with the United States. Punitive sanctions and containment have replaced integration, but where exactly does that leave the West's strategy for Russia?"

At the same time, the analyst notes that the United States is not ready to commit to deterrence and regime rollback while Europe is totally unprepared to return to a Cold War-like adversarial relationship with Russia.[28]

Joshua Rovner does not agree with M. Kofman's assessment that Putin has a reasonable strategy. Rovner considers the Russian president's actions to be "operational improvisations at best, each designed to recover from previous failures, and all based on false assumptions about Ukraine and Europe." According to the researcher, "in the long term, Putin's wars and belligerent diplomacy have deepened Russia's economic disaster and made recovery less likely. Putin may hope to reduce American power and influence, but his actions are more likely to accelerate Russia's decline."[29]

"The prospect for a land corridor to Crimea is just as unsound from a military perspective as it was back in 2014," M. Kofman believes. "Seizing and defending over 300 kilometers of real estate, including several cities, would involve occupying a substantial portion of Eastern Ukraine. We should not indulge in long-discredited land bridge theories as potential Russian operational objectives in Ukraine."[30]

"The Black Sea provides Russia with significant access to sea lines of communication, as well as opportunities to expand its air and coastal defenses forward and to project power at strategic distance."[31]

"Russia is also seeking to exacerbate tensions and mutual suspicions in Turkey's relations with the United States and the European Union in order to further erode Turkey's Western orientation." The Russian Federation also tries to "make EU and NATO countries feel guilty about their actions in Ukraine by fostering the notion that Western interference in Ukrainian politics and pushing the country to seek NATO membership provoked Russia's military intervention."[32]

As a recipe, the RAND study emphasizes "a need for more credible and sustainable military deterrent posture... NATO and like-minded partners in the region may not need to match Russian military capabilities across the board. One way to enhance deterrence could be to deploy advanced air defense and coastal defense systems in Romania and Bulgaria to counter the effectiveness of Russian offensive missile threats across the Black Sea. Continued assistance to Ukraine and Georgia in the development of their national defense capabilities, as the United States and other governments are doing, also contributes to regional deterrence." 32

"Measures designed to strengthen regional allies and partners and reduce Russia's military advantage would serve to enhance both deterrence and the prospects of regional cooperation during a confrontation."[33]

"NATO should instead begin by viewing the Eastern Flank as: 'one flank, one threat, one presence.' It needs coherence across these two regions [the Baltic and the Black Sea regions] with a balance of capabilities that present a united, unassailable front against Russia's assertiveness."[34]

The key elements of such a U.S. and NATO strategy, proposed by a group of analysts under the leadership of General Ben Hodges, include: raising the priority of the Black Sea Region; upgrading "tiered" forward presence; improving situational awareness; creation of procedures and structures that facilitate the exchange of intelligence in both regions (Black Sea and Baltic); greater NATO's investment in pan-continental infrastructure for military mobility; strengthening and integrating air defence and missile defence capabilities; security cooperation with countries in the region needs to be better aligned with U.S. policies and priorities; the United States and NATO need to coordinate actions more effectively in the Baltic Sea region; possible use of unmanned systems stationed in Poland to improve the Alliance's reconnaissance capabilities in the Black Sea region; strengthening Romania's capacity as the Alliance's regional centre of gravity; and attracting investment in the economic potential of the Black Sea region from leading NATO member states.

Criticizing the frequent reference to the so-called hybrid war, M. Kofman considers it useful only as part of efforts to motivate NATO and reassure its vulnerable members. "Getting Europeans to take European security more seriously is something we can all get behind, but hybrid warfare sounds increasingly like an excuse for them not to spend money on high-end conventional capabilities."[35]

"Any attempt to devise an American strategy toward the Black Sea, in other words, will require not only a clearer reckoning about which U.S. interests in the region are worth defending, but also a deeper understanding of the regional factors with which U.S. policies will intersect."[36]

"NATO should beef up its naval presence in the Mediterranean and Black Seas to check Russian ambitions and keep pace with Russian A2AD capabilities and submarine threats. One useful effort could include establishing a dedicated task force under a NATO flag, with a mission focused on maintaining freedom of navigation, protecting sea lines of communication, and securing critical infrastructure across the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and broader region."[37]

"The most direct NATO contribution to security in the Black Sea region, however, remains a strong defensive posture. The Alliance and its member nations must optimize a persistent military presence with a NATO flag. This includes ground presence and exercises within the three NATO member states on the Black Sea, as well as air and naval operations in the international airspace and water space of the Black Sea."[38]

NATO must "establish a regional command capable of coordinating all defensive activities in the theater. This joint command should include the three NATO members in the area − Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey − and eventually NATO aspirants Georgia and Ukraine. This command should be reinforced by principal NATO powers, including France, Germany, Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom."[39]

Strengthening the ability of NATO and EU member states in the region to confront Russia, improving NATO's ability to provide deterrence, and rendering security assistance to partner countries to increase their resilience and self-defence capabilities is one of the recipes from a detailed RAND's study on the security environment in the Black Sea region.[40]

Based on the war games held in support of the RAND project, the analysts have concluded that "NATO and the EU are unlikely to be able to compel Russia to stop using nonviolent, everyday Russian 'Gray Zone' tactics, but they might be able to deter higher-order aggression."[41]

Compelling Russia to stop its actions in the "grey zone" (below the threshold of armed aggression) is a much more difficult task than deterrence.

Extrapolating the Crimean scenario to the Baltic region, the analysts concluded that the Russian Federation "could move rapidly to formally annex the occupied territories to Russia. NATO clearly would not recognize the legitimacy of such a gambit, but from Russia's perspective it would at least nominally bring them under Moscow's nuclear umbrella. By turning a NATO counterattack aimed at liberating the Baltic republics into an 'invasion' of 'Russia,' Moscow could generate unpredictable but clearly dangerous escalatory dynamics."[42]

Thus, studying Russia's actions in the Black Sea region, analysts are trying to predict possible developments in other regions, both with the participation of Russia and other powers, especially China.

Given the dual challenges posed by major powers (China and Russia) and other threats around the world, as well as the United States' inability to deal with them effectively on its own, a united NATO is important to protect the West's strategic interests.[43]

China is actively seeking ways to penetrate and strengthen its influence in Europe, in particular, through infrastructure projects. Small, in terms of the size of the economies, Black Sea countries in need of infrastructure investment are particularly vulnerable to Chinese influence and predatory practices.

Thus, in the U.S. global strategy, deterring China should also include investment and economic instruments.[44] A growing number of researchers are also paying attention to the fact that "China is following Russia's successful use of hybrid warfare as 'it reduces the need for using classical military resources, providing them with a shield of plausible deniability.'"[45]

Analysts pay special attention to Turkey's evolving role, the complication of its relations with the United States,[46],[47] its ambitions to strengthen in the Eastern Mediterranean,[48] and the country's breakthrough in the circle of great powers.[49]

"The United States and Ukraine should consult on steps to enhance security and stability in the Black Sea region including with support of NATO and European partners. The United States, together with its NATO allies, should continue its regular deployments of air, land, and sea forces into the region, where Russia, Europe, the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus come together. The region is at the center of four great forces: democracy on its western edge; Russian military aggression to its north; Chinese financial influence to its east; and instability in the Middle East to its south. Ukraine and the United States should work with other allies in the area to protect common interests and deescalate tensions."[50]

Denying Russia's right to spheres of influence, Alexander Vershbow believes that "European allies should do more to bolster Ukraine and Georgia's ground, air, and naval capabilities, complementing the United States and Canada's efforts that began in 2014."[51]

The act of Russian aggression against the Ukrainian Navy vessels (25 November 2018) and the provocations against the British destroyer HMS Defender (23 June 2021) have caused a strong reaction in the expert community.

The incident with the Ukrainian naval vessels “aimed to deny Ukraine the ability to reinforce its own battle groupings in the Sea of Azov. Hampering access to Ukrainian naval assets is a convenient way to demonstrate that Ukraine is no longer welcome in the Sea of Azov and military reinforcements will not be tolerated."[52]

S. Pifer opposed the idea of sending Allied warships to the Sea of Azov because, in his opinion: "First, it could well provoke a shooting conflict in a region where Russia has geographic advantages. Second, it would violate the 2003 agreement, which requires the approval of both Ukraine and Russia for third-country naval vessels to enter the Sea of Azov. The West should not take actions that would delegitimize that agreement, as it is critical to Ukraine's claim for open access through the Kerch Strait."[53]

"Russia has de facto annexed the Azov Sea and fired on three Ukrainian ships traveling through the Kerch Strait in 2018, holding these ships and 24 captured Ukrainian sailors for more than six months.

Additionally, Russia has routinely intercepted US and UK military aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea. These illegal and dangerous moves by Russia must be strenuously resisted by the United States and its allies."[54]

Innocent passage "is the same principle the West insisted on – and Moscow resisted – during the Cold War, which led on at least one occasion to Soviet warships ramming American vessels doing exactly the same thing, in the same place, as HMS Defender was this week."[55]

"NATO should expeditiously respond to Russia's malign behavior with a series of freedom of navigation operations designed to challenge Russia's excessive maritime claims in what is, in effect, the Ukrainian territorial sea."[56]

There have been isolated attempts to assess the impact of sanctions and restrictions on the Russian economy.

Notably, there are two competing approaches: the one that shows the deepening of existing problems in the Russian economy and the one that claims the absence of significant negative impact. Proponents of the latter always conclude their analyses with theses such as the impact of sanctions on the economy is negligible, therefore, "Europe may gain from lifting the sanctions, as this would lead to de-escalation of tensions existing now in the political sphere."[57]

However, the vast majority still claim that sanctions have hit the Russian economy hard.

For example, the famous economist Anders Åslund and Maria Snegovaya noted in their study that "since 2014, it [the economy] has grown by an average of 0.3 percent per year, while the global average was 2.3 percent per year. They have slashed foreign credits and foreign direct investment, and may have reduced Russia's economic growth by 2.5-3 percent a year; that is, about $50 billion per year. The Russian economy is not likely to grow significantly again until the Kremlin has persuaded the West to ease the sanctions."[58]

Richard Nephew, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggests the following components of a sanctions strategy: defining the goals the achievement of which will cause sanction pain, as well as the minimum acceptable conditions for reducing such pain; the best possible understanding of Russia's vulnerabilities, its interests, and possible directions of interference in Ukrainian sovereignty, as well as its ability to withstand sanctions pressure; developing a strategy for careful, methodical, and effective increase in pain in areas sensitive for Russia; monitoring the implementation of the sanctions strategy and constantly adjusting it in order to improve its effectiveness in line with changes in Russia's determination to continue its course; Russia should be given clear criteria for lifting sanctions and encouraged to conclude agreements according to these criteria; the West must accept the possibility that, despite a carefully crafted strategy, its efforts may fail because of the inherent ineffectiveness of the strategy, a lack of understanding of the goals, or Russia's unwavering determination and ability to withstand pressure.[59]

Nilüfer Oral, a member of the Commission on International Law, considered various aspects of the legal struggle for maritime space with the help of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. According to her, in the arbitration proceedings against Russia in the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, to protect Ukraine's rights as a coastal state in the areas of the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov, and the Kerch Strait adjacent to occupied Crimea, for the first time since the early 1990s, a decision can be made on the status of the straits. However, the Tribunal is likely to consider the issue not in a broad context, in accordance with Part III of the Convention, but on the basis of the provisions of the 2003 Ukrainian-Russian Kerch Treaty.[60]

"The ongoing arbitration may reinforce Ukraine and the international community's criticism of Russia's illegal actions, generate further diplomatic costs and increased sanctions, and spur increased naval deployments to the region and freedom of navigation assertions by the United States and NATO."[61]

In the context of the policy of assimilation, the appropriation of the history and culture of other peoples (in the case of the Ukrainians – denial of the very existence of such a people, language, and culture)[62], noteworthy are studies on assaults against cultural heritage that "constitute a creeping encroachment on a people's identity, endangering its very survival."[63]


The unrecognized annexation of Crimea, Russia's aggression in the Donbas, sabre rattling in other regions, and the Kremlin's aggressive foreign policy have drawn attention to the Black Sea region.

Most analytical commentaries and more extensive studies have focused on assessing Russia's actions, especially during the attempted annexation. The militarization of Crimea and new threats from Russia in the region and beyond remain in focus today. Security issues account for the lion's share of studies and essays on strategies.

In addition to calls for greater involvement of America in European affairs in general and the Black Sea in particular, it is about strengthening NATO's ability to defend its eastern flank and supporting its allies and partners in the Black Sea.

There is a consensus that Russia's actions and countering them should be considered as a whole, without separating regional peculiarities (especially between the Baltic and Black Sea regions).

A separate body of research concerns Turkey, its growing role, and the need to bridge differences with the United States and European nations that have deepened over the past few years.

Increased attention is being paid to China, both in terms of its containment as part of the U.S. strategy and in the context of Beijing borrowing from Moscow successful practices (actions in the "grey zone") to expand its influence.

In addition to the retrospective analysis of the annexation attempt, assessment of the current situation, and forecasts, the expert opinion is aimed at conceptualizing Russia's approaches to a new type of conflict (hybrid warfare, new-generation Russian warfare, nonlinear conflict), actions in the "grey zone," and influence operations.



[1] McGann, James G. (2020). 2019 Global go to think tank index report. TTCSP. University of Pennsylvania.

[2] Marxsen, C. (2014). The Crimea crisis – An international law perspective. ZaöRV 74 (2014), 367-391. Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

[3] Marxsen, C. (2014). The concept of territorial integrity in international law – What are the implications for Crimea? Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

[4] Christakis, T. (2014). Self-determination, territorial integrity and fait accompli in the case of Crimea. ZaöRV/Heidelberg JIL Vol. 75 (1), 75-100.

[5] Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. (2021, July 1). Law of Ukraine on indigenous peoples of Ukraine.Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

[6] Kotlyar, M. (2021, June 9). Putin nazval proyekt o "korennykh narodakh" Ukrainy napominaniyem o natsistakh [Putin called the project on the "indigenous peoples" of Ukraine a reminder of the Nazis]. RBC.

[7] Jose, B., & Stefes, C. H. (2018). Russian norm entrepreneurship in Crimea: Serious contestation or cheap talk? GIGA Working Papers, 311/2018.

[8] Grant, T. D. (2015). Aggression against Ukraine: Territory, responsibility, and international law. Palgrave Macmillan US.

[9] Sayapin, S., & Tsybulenko, E. (Eds.). (2018). The use of force against Ukraine and international law. Jus ad bellum, jus in bello, jus post bellum. Springer.

[10] Milano, E. (2015). Russia's Veto in the Security Council: Whither the duty to abstain under Art. 27(3) of the UN Charter? ZaöRV 75 (2015), 215-231. Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law.

[11] Grant, T. (2015, August 25). Russia's invasion of Ukraine: What does international law have to say? The Lawfare Institute.

[12] Kofman, M., Migacheva, K., Nichiporuk, B., Radin, A., Tkacheva, O., & Oberholtzer, J. (2017). Lessons from Russia's operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. RAND Corporation.

[13] Norberg, J. (2014, March 13). The use of Russia's military in the Crimean crisis. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[14] Fix, L., & Knott, E. (2014, December 18). In Crimea, time for pressure, not acceptance. DGAPkompakt, 16.

[15] Speck, U. (2015, March 07). The West's response to the Ukraine conflict: A transatlantic success story. 2015-16 Paper Series, 4. Transatlantic Academy.

[16] Chatham House. (2021, May 13). Myths and misconceptions in the debate on Russia. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

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The Crimean Library section on the website has been created with the support of the European Program of the International Renaissance Foundation. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the position of the International Renaissance Foundation


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