Athena Institute


Re: Ukraine

"Artful diplomacies and intelligence services of potential adversaries might easily use domestic extremist groups as proxies to trigger if not war, but serious international political crises that they can try to turn to their advantage in degrading European positions" - the Athena Institute wrote in late 2012 in a piece titled 'Extremist Groups as Proxies of Foreign Powers'. Time for a test in the Ukraine?

More than a year ago, the Institute - as part of a pilot project charting emerging or non-conventional threats - wrote:

"With all its troubles, Europe, with most of its states in NATO, is perceived as one, if not the most secure place on the planet. Its potential geopolitical adversaries are in a much weaker position than in previous eras. This, however, does not mean that countries interested in changing the status quo will not seek new means to achieve their goals.

Fiction I – Russia

Before the outbreak of the 2008 financial and subsequent economic crisis, many foreign policy experts portrayed Russia as a re-emerging country actively involved in limiting further loss of its Cold War-times influence and/or trying to reverse the process. This – much debated – perception was built, at least in part, on solid ground: that since the Napoleonic wars Russian strategic culture was founded on expansionism as a way to build up buffer zones to defend the homeland. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war – in which Russia reclaimed the two breakaway regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in effect successfully blocking Georgia's acceptance to NATO – the perception became more widespread. Then the international financial crisis hit, the world plunged into one of the most severe recessions in modern history. Oil and gas prices went through the floor, just as Russian state revenue. The narrative of a rapidly re-emerging Russia died down; at least for now.

There remained however 'frozen conflicts' and other countries on the geopolitical frontlines: the Baltic States, Moldova/Transnistria and the Caucasus.

Russia launched its 2008 war against Georgia claiming that it is only responding to an „unprovoked attack”, an action necessary to protect the local Russian-speaking community. That time Western diplomats and NATO officials openly suggested that Russia tricked Georgia into mounting an attack using Russian passport holders as a political weapon.

In 2007, the Estonian government's decision to move a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn resulted in a full-blown crisis between Estonia and Russia. Part of the Russian response to the Estonian move was a military exercise of its armed forces stationed in Pskov – home of airborne and other expeditionary units – practicing an intervention to ”protect the rights of Russian-speaking Estonians threatened with violence by local nationalists”. The aim of the exercise was supposed to see how easily the Russian invading forces could capture the airfields and ports, thus preventing NATO from reinforcing its allies (1). In late 2009, Russian and Belorussian units held a very similar joint military exercise reportedly based on a scenario of an attack by „Lithuanian terrorists” against the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Russian-speaking communities can be found in both the Baltic States and in Moldova/Transnistria. In case it needs a pretext, it seems that Russia only needs „local nationalists” or „terrorists” to „respond”."

That time, we concluded that

"There are a 117 identified, high-risk, active domestic extremist groups in Europe, one third of them is already involved in carrying out physical attacks. Artful diplomacies and intelligence services of potential adversaries might easily use them as proxies to trigger if not war, but very serious international political crises that they can try to turn to their advantage in degrading European positions."

The Ukraine might very well turn out to be a testing ground for the theory.

(The whole article is available on the Unconventional: