CPC - Caspian Policy Center


the ukraine crisis: critical questions on eurasian security

The Ukraine Crisis: Critical Questions on Eurasian Security

Author: Major General U.S. Army (Ret.) Michael S. Repass

Feb 1, 2022

Image source: Daniel Lehmann

CPC Senior Fellow Major General (ret.) Michael Repass poses five critical questions on the Ukraine Crisis and the CPC research team provides context for these important questions:

Question: What will President Biden and NATO give away to avoid war?

Context: Russian President Vladimir Putin has, for a long time, wanted NATO to promise to stay out of Ukraine and the Russian government has stated as much, demanding that NATO prevents Ukraine and other countries from joining the alliance. The United States has called these demands non-starters and has remained firm in its position. The most recent talks in Paris and upcoming negotiations Berlin provide an opportunity for de-escalation, but one side or the other must give and neither side has thus far indicated a willingness to do so. Although the Kremlin demands that Ukraine be prohibited from joining NATO, Washington remains firm in leaving the possibility of membership open to Ukraine.

Question: How can Russia climb down after escalating to the edge of conflict?  

Context: Russia has put over 100,000 troops on the border and announced several military exercises. Putin has engaged in a very public display of force, and the sunk cost of such a display might hinder attempts for Russia to deescalate. The decision lies with Russia on how it can back away from this dangerous display of brinkmanship.

Question: When do Russian force levels and positioning become a credible invasion force? Will Belarus join Russia in the event of an invasion?

Context: The Ukrainian military is outmatched by Russia, but it is determined, dug in, and has been receiving training and equipment from NATO member states including $200 million worth of “lethal aid” from Washington. A full-scale invasion would not be easy, nor would its success be guaranteed. Belarus could provide much needed support and force Ukrainian armed forces to stretch themselves too thin, providing Russia with a much easier path into Ukraine. The United States has also made clear that should Belarus allow its territory to be used in an attack on Ukraine, it would be faced with a “decisive response.”

Question: How does the West seize the initiative and quit reacting to Russian moves? 

Context: To this point, the West has been debating and responding reactively to Russian actions. This wait-and-see mentality allows Russia to define the crisis and manipulate its trajectory. Western policymakers are forced to react rapidly to changing conditions with uncertain information. If the West can begin to take proactive measures that preempt further displays of aggression, perhaps it can stop the ladder of escalation.

Question: How will this episode affect security in the Caspian region?

Context: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan are all members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and are thus bound by collective security obligations. In the past, the CSTO provided a lukewarm response to Russia’s invasion in 2014. Any potential conflict will occur on Ukrainian soil, and the reluctance of some CSTO members in taking a decisive position in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict might decrease the likelihood of the organization’s use. If CSTO members are not asked to intervene in a renewed Russian offensive, Caspian countries will become ever more wary of Russian influence, especially the countries with Russian soldiers on their soil.

At the same time, given the recent use of the CSTO in Kazakhstan, CSTO support to Russia in Ukraine cannot be entirely dismissed out of hand. It would require Russia to fabricate a narrative that justifies the use of the CSTO’s Article 4 (the collective defense clause). However, Russia is no stranger to false narratives, and logistical support for a Russian offensive could prove valuable. Should Moscow request that CSTO member states participate in an incursion in Ukraine, the Caspian countries will face a stark choice.

Related Articles

Energy and Economy Program (EEP)

The Caspian Region Did Not Wait for Opportunity in 2023 What Lies Ahead for 2024?

Perhaps the greatest indicator of change in 2023 was the accelerating speed of evolution in the Caucasus and Central Asia regions.  This review

Central Asia

Reshaping Realities in the Caspian Region: 2023 in Review

In 2023, migration flows from Central Asia saw both continuity and the beginnings of a shift away from Russia as the traditional destination for migrant workers