As tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine remain high, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the government in Kiev could seek to invade the Crimean Peninsula with Western support as it moves closer to becoming a NATO alliance member. Following the overthrow of Ukraine’s government in 2014 Russian forces occupied the peninsula and quickly declared it a part of Russian territory. Although Crimea was historically part of Russia, however, it is recognised by the United Nations and the large majority of UN member states as Ukrainian territory with its status fuelling further tensions with both Kiev and its Western partners. President Putin warned that should Ukraine join NATO then Article 5 of the treaty, which stipulates all members should support any member subject to aggression, could facilitate a joint effort by the alliance to support a Ukrainian invasion of Crimea because it is recognised as part of Ukraine. He stated to this effect: “We face a real threat that they will want to fight for this territory that they claim belongs to them with military mains… then the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, this military bloc, will have to join these actions.” While NATO’s charter excludes the possibility of admitting members with ongoing territorial disputes, this is expected to potentially be overlooked should other alliance members Ukraine’s admission to be in their interests.
Crimea has been heavily fortified since 2014 with an estimated 30,000 personnel stationed there as well as two S-400 air defence regiments, bastion cruise missile and Iskander ballistic missile systems, Su-30SM and Su-27 heavyweight fighters, and two units of Su-24 strike fighters. Tensions surrounding Ukraine have escalated after Ukrainian forces attacked Russian backed separatists forces in the country’s eastern regions, which led Russia to unprecedentedly recognise the Donetsk People’s Republic and the nearby Lugansk People’s Republic as independent countries. Much like the status of Crimea as a Russian territory, however, the status of these republics is unlikely to see widespread international recognition.