Balancing at the Precipice

European Leadership Network has put together a good analysis in their new title Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014 (a free 20-pages PDF). It covers nearly 40 incidents between the West and Russia during 2014 that seem to be getting more dangerous. The incidents are categorized as “High Risk Incidents”, “Serious Incidents with Escalation Risk”, and “Near Routine Incidents”, with respective counts for the categories as 3, 11, and 25 incidents. The brief is compact and includes an interactive map included also here below. This publication is therefore something that is of the category: “Must read – No excuses”. I recommend a careful reading of this and also looking up the references.

I have previously blogged Swedish Skipper‘s praiseworthy summary of the events of last three years, now available in three languages: Swedish, English and Finnish. These two texts support each other well. Skipper’s take on the events is especially from the viewpoint of the Baltic Sea, Sweden and security policy.

Frear, Thomas ; Kulesa, Łukasz; Kearns, Ian . Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014. European Leadership Network, November 2014.

Frear, Thomas ; Kulesa, Łukasz; Kearns, Ian . Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014. European Leadership Network, November 2014. Direct link to the PDF.

I include the executive summary here:

Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, the intensity and gravity of incidents involving Russian and Western militaries and security agencies has visibly increased. This ELN Policy Brief provides details of almost 40 specific incidents that have occurred over the last eight months (an interactive map is available here). These events add up to a highly disturbing picture of violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.
Apart from routine or near-routine encounters, the Brief identifies 11 serious incidents of a more aggressive or unusually provocative nature, bringing a higher level risk of escalation. These include harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian ‘mock bombing raid’ missions. It also singles out 3 high risk incidents which in our view carried a high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation: a narrowly avoided collision between a civilian airliner and Russian surveillance plane, abduction of an Estonian intelligence officer, and a large-scale Swedish ‘submarine hunt’.
Even though direct military confrontation has been avoided so far, the mix of more aggressive Russian posturing and the readiness of Western forces to show resolve increases the risk of unintended escalation and the danger of losing control over events. This Brief therefore makes three main recommendations:

  1. The Russian leadership should urgently re-evaluate the costs and risks of continuing its more assertive military posture, and Western diplomacy should be aimed at persuading Russia to move in this direction.
  2. All sides should exercise military and political restraint.
  3. All sides must improve military-to-military communication and transparency.

To perpetuate a volatile stand-off between a nuclear armed state and a nuclear armed alliance and its partners in the circumstances described in this paper is risky at best. It could prove catastrophic at worst.


Map of the Incidents; shown in color codes:
High risk incidents in Red
Serious incidents in Yellow
Near-routine incidents in Blue
Miscellaneous incidents in Green


This is a translation of James Mashiri‘s blog post: Kuilun partaalla tasapainoilua

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