Occupational hazards: The Russian military in Crimea

While its current disposition in Crimea is mainly defensive in nature, Russia’s military build-up on the peninsula could soon turn the Black Sea region into a security black hole.

On February 20 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian special forces and airborne troops to reinforce covert military intelligence assets on the Crimean Peninsula. Together, they staged a takeover of regional political infrastructure – including the parliament building, radio and TV stations, and other administrative facilities – on the then-autonomous peninsula. By mid-March, Russia had completed the annexation of Crimea with a referendum on whether to join the country. Since then, Moscow has maintained its deployments of Russian forces on the peninsula, while formally treating it as Russian Federation territory.

During the five-year occupation, Russia has had many difficulties in supplying the peninsula and in providing jobs and other opportunities to its population. In effect, the only tangible economic progress Russia has achieved in Crimea has come through its overhaul of the peninsula’s long-neglected air-, sea-, and land-based military infrastructure. The continuation of this effort throughout the next decade – to date, Russia has brought roughly half the infrastructure back into operation – will turn the peninsula into a military outpost that has a significant impact on European security.

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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.



Gustav Gressel of the ECFR

Dr. Gustav Gressel is a Senior Policy Fellow on the Wider Europe Programme at the ECFR Berlin Office. Before joining the ECFR he worked as desk officer for international security policy and strategy in the Bureau for Security Policy in the Austrian Ministry of Defence from 2006 to 2014 and as a research fellow of the Commissioner for Strategic Studies in the Austrian MoD from 2003 to 2006. He also was committed as research fellow in the International Institute for Liberal Politics in Vienna. Before his academic career he served five years in the Austrian Armed Forces. Gustav earned a PhD in Strategic Studies at the Faculty of Military Sciences at the National University of Public Service, Budapest and a Master Degree in political science at Salzburg University.