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Table of Contents Show
- Chapter 1. What is NATO, how the alliance was formed – and what does the USSR have to do with it.
- Chapter 2. How the alliance is organized – and is it true that everything is decided by the USA
- Chapter 3. Why does NATO keep expanding?
- Chapter 4. How the Relationship between Russia and NATO Has Developed All This Time
- The West and Russia had different visions of the future
- Russia sought to become a guarantor of European security and saw NATO as a rival
- Moscow is convinced that it was deceived by NATO 30 years ago
- The USSR (and later Russia) expressed readiness to join NATO, but not seriously
- Moscow saw the NATO operation in Kosovo as a threat
- The Kremlin began to pursue a more assertive foreign policy
- Chapter 5. What will happen to NATO next – against the backdrop of war and after it.
Hello, this is Pavel Luzin – a political scientist, an independent researcher on Russia’s foreign and defense policies, and an expert in international security. My long article is about NATO – and why Russia’s relationship with the alliance is in such a dismal state.
The Soviet Union collapsed over 30 years ago. Throughout these decades, NATO has annoyed not only the Russian government but also a significant portion of society at their urging. The expansion of NATO was named one of the main threats to the country in the 1997 National Security Concept and the 2000 Russian military doctrine. And the proportion of Russians who are convinced that we have every reason to fear the alliance has held steady at around 60% for many years.
Why? My article today is an attempt to explain in maximum detail what an alliance is and why its relations with Russia have always been so complicated.
In telling this, I will use not only data from open sources, but also my personal experience. The NATO Information Bureau in Moscow has been organizing trips for Russian experts for many years. Thanks to this, I have been to the alliance’s headquarters several times and have been able to see its work from the inside.
33,670 – that’s how many characters are in this text. It will take you about 25 minutes to read it.
The article has five chapters. The first one tells the story of how the alliance was formed and for what purpose. The second one is about how NATO operates and the principles it follows (as well as the drawbacks of these principles). The third chapter explains in detail why NATO has been expanding all these years. The fourth chapter is devoted to the history of Russia’s difficult relations with NATO over the last thirty years – from conflict to conflict. Finally, the fifth chapter is about the future of the North Atlantic Alliance; and a little bit – about the future of Russia in the context of international relations. This is the shortest chapter, which builds on several assumptions: the war is still ongoing, and making precise forecasts is premature.
By reading this text, you will gain basic knowledge about the history of the alliance, its meaning of existence, and many of its decisions. However, this is just a foundation: the history of international relations is a complex matter full of nuances. Study the materials from the links we have left in the text – they will help you delve even deeper into the issue.
Chapter 1. What is NATO, how the alliance was formed – and what does the USSR have to do with it.
The NATO military-political bloc (also known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or simply the Alliance) was founded on April 4, 1949. At that time, 12 countries joined together: Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
All of these countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty (also known as the Washington Treaty). The document had several goals: first of all, to ensure collective defense through joint efforts; and secondly, to cooperate for the stability and prosperity of each other.
The initiators of creating the alliance were European countries. Moreover, a year before the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, some European states had already attempted to unite. In March 1948, Belgium, Great Britain, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France concluded a treaty in Brussels, according to which they promised to come to each other’s aid in case of an attack on any of them. Thus, the Brussels Treaty paved the way for the Washington Treaty.
Who did the members of the alliance want to defend themselves from? The bloc was created against the background of the confrontation between capitalist countries and the USSR. The active policy of “sovietization”, which the USSR conducted in the Central and Eastern European countries that were in its sphere of influence after World War II (including Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania), scared Western countries in the first place. But not only them.
The immediate precursor to the conclusion of the Washington Treaty was the blockade of West Berlin, which lasted from June 1948 to May 1949. At that time, the USSR blocked the railway and automobile roads leading to the western part of the city for almost a year – to wear it down and force the allied countries (the US, Great Britain, and France) to leave this territory.
In response, the allies organized the supply of West Berlin by air, despite the risks of being attacked by Soviet aviation and anti-aircraft guns. Stalin lost in this confrontation. However, as a result of the blockade, it became clear that the Soviet Union was willing to use military force and would only retreat if met with strong resistance.
And thus the idea of a union between Western Europe and the United States emerged (the States had been a guarantor of European security since World War II). The alliance was supposed to help its members restrain the USSR from using force on the European continent. That is why Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty is considered the key article.
It states: if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.
Later, Greece and Turkey joined NATO (1952), as well as West Germany (1955). In addition, in 1982, Spain joined the alliance after the fall of the Francisco Franco regime and the country’s transition to democratic rule.
In turn, the Soviet Union in 1955 created the Warsaw Pact Organization. It included Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Albania along with the USSR. However, the latter soon left the WPO due to ideological and political disagreements with Moscow (in particular, the Albanian regime opposed Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization), and also because Albania was far from Soviet borders.
In Europe, there were countries that did not join either NATO or the Warsaw Pact. In addition to Albania, these were Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia, several small European principalities, as well as Cyprus and Malta, which gained independence from Great Britain in the 1960s.
The “non-aligned” status of these countries was quite convenient for the USSR, as it gave the Soviets the opportunity for diplomatic and trade-economic maneuvers. Moscow used the contradictions between the “neutral” states and NATO countries for its own purposes – including to have more free access to the world market and the international financial system.
In addition, Algeria did not join NATO, which gained independence from France in 1962. It, along with other North African countries, also represented an interest for the USSR. Moscow sought to expand its political, military, and economic influence on these African countries, maintained good relations and military-technical cooperation with them.
But the function of containment of the USSR was not the only one for NATO. Proof of this is Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
“The parties to the agreement will promote the further development of international relations of peace and friendship by strengthening their free institutions, achieving a greater understanding of the principles on which they are based, and contributing to the creation of conditions of stability and prosperity. The parties to the agreement will strive to eliminate contradictions in their international economic policies and promote the development of economic cooperation between any of them and among themselves as a whole.”
Therefore, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the entire socialist bloc as a whole, NATO continued to exist.
Chapter 2. How the alliance is organized – and is it true that everything is decided by the USA
NATO has two main leadership structures, both based in Belgium. These are the headquarters in Brussels and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in the city of Mons, which is subordinate to it.
The headquarters is responsible for all political issues within the alliance: conducts consultations between countries and oversees the coordination of their positions. SHAPE, as is clear from its name, is responsible for the management of the armed forces of the member countries – both in peacetime and in wartime. The Supreme Allied Commander of NATO’s combined armed forces in Europe traditionally is an American General: the United States remains the main military force of NATO, as their army is the largest and most trained.
At the same time, both the management structure of the alliance and the North Atlantic Treaty itself exclude what is often referred to in Russia as the “dictatorship of the United States”. According to this view, the United States is the main state within NATO and the majority of the alliance’s decisions depend on its will. This view is largely formed due to the fact that the US accounts for a large part of the military expenditures. Additionally, the US is the largest state in the bloc.
Undoubtedly, the USA has influence in the alliance. However, they cannot force their allies – they can only try to persuade them. The thing is, NATO is organized in a very complex way. The bloc can only function politically and militarily when there is fundamental agreement among its members on key issues. This consensus is achieved through numerous consultations and coordination, lengthy diplomatic negotiations, and mutual persuasion. There is a place for lobbying a wide range of interests in any negotiations. But these are negotiations, not a “dictate” from one country.
On one hand, such an approach – when everything needs to be agreed upon and mutually agreed upon – allows NATO members to jointly respond to threats and act as a united force. On the other hand, such a complex organization of processes within the bloc makes it quite cumbersome and slow. That is, if we are not talking about a direct attack on one of the NATO members or the alliance as a whole, it may take weeks or even months for it to respond.
In the history of NATO, there has only been one case when a member of the bloc invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – which means an immediate reaction to an armed attack. This happened after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The USA appealed to its allies for help, which resulted in the operation in Afghanistan.
In addition, NATO’s approach to decision-making and the organization of all its processes effectively does not allow the alliance to pursue a collective “offensive” foreign policy. And even more so – to commit military aggression. Because it is quite difficult to make all states in the bloc agree on the necessity of military aggression.
To illustrate how difficult it can be for alliance members to come to an agreement, it is worth recalling two cases.
The first one occurred in 1966 when NATO headquarters was still located in Paris (it worked there from 1952 until 1966, previously in London). From the late 1950s, political tension between France and NATO was growing: the then-president of France Charles de Gaulle tried to strengthen the country’s political influence in Europe. Not getting what he wanted, he began to reduce the number of French military forces allocated for NATO missions. And then he even started threatening France’s exit from the bloc. It got to the point that de Gaulle demanded the removal of NATO headquarters from the country and withdrew all French forces from under the unified command of the alliance. As a result, in 1967, NATO headquarters moved to Brussels. However, the conflict was ironed out, and France not only remained a member of the North Atlantic Treaty, but also guaranteed the fulfillment of its commitments to collective defense in case of crisis or war.
The second one is recent, it happened in 2016. At that time, relations between Ankara and the US (and NATO as a whole) went through a crisis. Turkey did not like that the States did not extradite opposition Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen – Turkish authorities accused him of organizing an unsuccessful military coup. At the same time, the US and NATO did not like that Turkey began actively getting closer to Moscow and bought S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems from Russia. At that time, in diplomatic circles (which the author of this text personally heard), they remembered the history with de Gaulle – and wondered if Turkey would do something similar. It took several years to find a compromise, but in the end it was found: Turkey is still a member of NATO (which, however, does not mean that the previous level of trust and cooperation has been restored).
That is to say, there are disagreements within NATO – serious and prolonged ones – which can only be smoothed over by common defense interests. These disagreements make joint aggression by the alliance impossible and phrases like “aggressive military bloc” meaningless.
NATO is a bloc with a complex organization that unites countries around real common threats. It is not able to provide the level of consolidation needed to achieve foreign policy goals of only one member country (even as strong as the US).
Chapter 3. Why does NATO keep expanding?
By the time of the disintegration of the USSR, there were already 16 states in the bloc. What happened next?
The end of the Cold War brought a series of local armed conflicts to the European continent. In the territory of the former Soviet Union, these were: the civil war in Tajikistan, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts, the war in Transnistria, and the first war in Chechnya. In any case, Russia was an interested party in all these conflicts. All of this was happening against a backdrop of strong criminalization, political and economic instability in many new states.
At the same time, by the beginning of the 1990s, the existence of the Warsaw Pact Organization gradually lost its meaning. The bloc was created as a military-political alliance of socialist states, but the communist regimes in the Soviet-controlled countries of Central and Eastern Europe were collapsing. In the summer of 1991, the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist.
Even before the official cessation of its activities, the Internal Affairs Directorate began withdrawing Soviet troops from the territories of the states that were part of it. This process was supposed to be completed only in 1994, but the Soviet army disappeared along with the Soviets themselves. It left behind large reserves of weapons and military equipment in Central and Eastern Europe, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. For decades, the Soviet leadership had been accumulating reserves there in case of a full-scale war with NATO.
While the former Soviet republics were building independent states (not without difficulties), in Russia itself, the great power and even revanchist sentiments were growing. The country was in a political crisis, as evidenced by the conflict between Boris Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet in 1992-1993, as well as the sudden victory of the LDPR in the parliamentary elections in December 1993. The crisis, of course, also affected the economy. At the same time, Russia was carrying out a large-scale reduction of nuclear weapons for money from the United States and European countries – under the treaty signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush in 1991. But Russia continued to develop these weapons as well. For example, the country built 12 nuclear submarines in just the 1990s.
Meanwhile, in the south of Europe, Yugoslavia collapsed and plunged into a bloody massacre. This became a new threat to both the Balkan region and Europe as a whole. In the early 1990s, neighboring Albania also experienced the collapse of totalitarianism, which further exacerbated the situation in the Balkans.
In general, there was uncertainty in Eastern and Southern Europe during these years, which did not give hope for peace and security in the near future. However, it is not only this that is important for the history of NATO expansion. It is also important how the former socialist countries and the Baltic republics of the USSR felt and how they related to Russia and its common past with them.
For the Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – the most important historical experience was the short period of independence from 1918 to 1940, which ended with the Soviet occupation. At the same time, the West (i.e. the USA and its allies) recognized this period as occupation throughout the decades – until the Baltic republics left the USSR and restored their independence.
In the case of Poland, the list can be lengthy. There is the partition of the country between the Russian, Austrian Empires, and Prussia at the end of the 18th century; the experience of Polish uprisings against Russia; the restoration of independence in 1918; Wars with the Bolsheviks; the new partition of the country between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939; the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944; and the subsequent complete subordination of the Poles to the USSR until 1989, which ended with the struggle of the “Solidarity” Trade Union against dictatorship and the new attainment of independence.
There were also Hungary and Czechia. They had been subordinated to Moscow for decades and also had experience of uprisings (in 1956 – in Hungary, in 1968 – in Czechoslovakia), which were suppressed by Soviet troops.
For all these countries (and not only for them – the list can go on), NATO was seen not only as a guarantee of security and sustainable development in the new world. The alliance gave them hope that the events of the 20th century would not be repeated and the struggle for independence would finally come to an end. This was especially true against the backdrop of post-Soviet Russia not rushing to carry out extensive reforms and rethink its role in history, and also being an interested party in conflicts on former Soviet territories.
That is why Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic signed protocols for joining the alliance in December 1997 and became full members in 1999. For NATO itself, expansion meant greater control on the continent, greater stability and predictability in Central and Eastern Europe. However, the process of these countries joining the alliance was dragged out: after the collapse of socialism, they had to carry out socio-economic reforms, which often led to political contradictions within the states. This forced the alliance to develop a special mechanism – an action plan for membership for future members. In other words, each country must first prepare for membership in NATO, including carrying out necessary reforms and properly restructuring institutions.
Several years later, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (the first of the former Yugoslav republics to dismantle itself), as well as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, joined NATO for the same reasons as their predecessors. They signed protocols for accession to the alliance in March 2003 and became members of the bloc in the following year.
In the future, the alliance made efforts to reduce the risk of new wars in the Balkan region – Albania (2009), Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017), and North Macedonia (2020) all joined NATO. Moreover, in 2016, shortly after Montenegro signed the accession protocol with the alliance, an attempted coup d’état occurred in the country, which failed. The country’s authorities believe that the goal of the coup was to disrupt Montenegro’s accession to NATO, and two Russians, presumably Russian military intelligence officers, were convicted in absentia for organizing it.
Today, the “non-block” countries in the Balkans are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo, which has declared its independence. The first is trying to implement a plan for NATO membership since 2010, but the process is hindered by a fragile political balance within it, as well as concerns from the West that Belgrade and Moscow could influence the situation in this country. Kosovo, in turn, has expressed a desire to join the alliance in the spring of 2022, shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine.
It is easy to see the “Balkan vector” in how NATO has expanded in recent years, and it was indeed a priority. This largely explains why Ukraine and Georgia did not receive a membership action plan from NATO in 2008 – despite their desire and the threat from Russia. However, the Balkans were more important for NATO: there remained a risk of new confrontations in the region against the backdrop of the recognition of Kosovo’s independence (although this risk persists, it is generally much lower now).
The relations between the West and Russia also played a role in why Georgia and Ukraine were not accepted into NATO for so long: the alliance did not want to completely spoil its relationship with Moscow at that time. The West had enough other problems, such as the new global economic crisis and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even the annexation of Crimea and the first stage of the war against Ukraine in Donbass in 2014-2015 did not immediately affect NATO’s agenda (here again, it is worth recalling the slowness of the alliance). The organizational inertia of the bloc led to the fact that the strengthening of its military forces on the eastern flank – that is, in the Baltic States and Poland – in response to the Russian threat occurred only in 2016.
In total, there are 30 countries in NATO today. In the near future, there could be even more: Sweden and Finland have expressed their desire to join the bloc amid war. They are willing to change the principles of their defense policy that they have adhered to for the past seventy years for the sake of membership.
Chapter 4. How the Relationship between Russia and NATO Has Developed All This Time
Throughout the last 30 years, relations between Russia and NATO have developed from one confrontation to another. There are numerous reasons for this, but a few key ones can be identified.
The West and Russia had different visions of the future
Neither the Russian authorities nor the West considered Russia as having lost the Cold War. However, they had different opinions on what would happen next. The USA, Canada, Europe and other Western countries believed that Russia was seriously committed to the path of democratization and the creation of a fully-fledged capitalist system – like Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic States and other former socialist bloc countries.
The Kremlin had a different opinion. It believed that Russia’s economic difficulties were temporary and could be addressed with technical measures, which largely relied on financial support from the West. Yes, in the 1990s, the authorities carried out reforms, but they did not want to rebuild the foundation on which all Russian institutions and state culture stood. This foundation, of course, was Soviet. Therefore, creating a favorable environment for individual freedoms, private entrepreneurship, local self-government, and regional autonomy on its basis was difficult.
Russia sought to become a guarantor of European security and saw NATO as a rival
In May 1995, Russia for the first time raised the issue of wanting to obtain the status of guarantor of European security through the creation of a common security space (preferably without NATO). It is worth noting that this is closely tied to the Russian government’s long-standing commitment to the formula of “Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok.”
At the same time, Moscow resisted the idea of NATO expansion and demanded at least a few years’ delay. Later, in November 1999, Boris Yeltsin, who was preparing to resign as president, formulated Russian claims quite candidly. He asked US President Bill Clinton to “give Europe to Russia” so that it would be the main guarantor of security on the European continent. The matter was not just about abstract ambitions. Such a guarantor status would make the Russian system, both political and economic, more stable, and would also provide the country’s elite with a strong position in the world for decades to come.
However, in those years, Moscow, still weakened after the collapse of the USSR, was ready to bargain and yield to the West – in exchange for financial assistance, a place in the “Big Seven” (which with Russia became the “Big Eight”) and the status of a special partner in the alliance. Thus, in May 1997, two years before Yeltsin’s request to “give Europe to Russia,” the parties concluded the Founding Act on Relations between Russia and NATO. And in 2002, under President Vladimir Putin, the Russia-NATO Council was established to enhance cooperation on common security issues.
Cooperation between Russia and the alliance developed not only in the political sphere, but also in education and military-technical fields. For example, in the 1990s, Russian officers went to Europe for the first time to improve their qualifications. Russia also helped NATO with logistics during the operation in Afghanistan. In addition, until 2014, Russia and NATO members tried to build cooperation between their defense industries and signed contracts for the supply of weapons and military equipment.
However, Russia’s main goal – the status of a guarantor of European security – remained unchanged during all this time. And in the Kremlin they did not tire of repeating: ideally, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should cease to exist.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with French television channels “TF-1” and “France 3”, in the year 2000:
“I don’t really understand the role of NATO today. After all, NATO was created in opposition to the Soviet Union and the ‘Eastern Bloc’ that was created by the Soviet Union. Today, there is neither an ‘Eastern Bloc’ nor even the Soviet Union. That is, there are no reasons that gave rise to NATO. But NATO exists. And not only does it exist, but it is expanding, even expanding to our borders.”
Moscow is convinced that it was deceived by NATO 30 years ago
Russian authorities have repeatedly emphasized that Washington allegedly violated the promise not to expand NATO to the East. What was this promise?
In 1990, the leaders of the USA, USSR, France, Great Britain, West Germany, and East Germany discussed the conditions for the reunification of Germany for several months. The format was called “Two plus Four” – two parts of the future united Germany and four intermediary countries that had won World War II. A couple of months before the start of these consultations, the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, met with then-US Secretary of State James Baker in Moscow. At this meeting, Baker said: “We understand that it is important not only for the USSR but also for other European countries to have guarantees that if the USA maintain their presence in Germany within NATO, not an inch of NATO’s current military jurisdiction will be extended eastward. We believe that consultations and discussions within the ‘Two plus Four’ mechanism should guarantee that the reunification of Germany will not lead to the expansion of the alliance to the east.”
At that moment, the leaders of the two countries were preliminarily discussing possible options for an agreement, and the meeting in the “Two Plus Four” format took place later. After the first round of negotiations in May 1990, Baker presented his proposals to Gorbachev in writing. This document did not mention guarantees of non-expansion of NATO – and this did not provoke objections from Gorbachev.
That is to say, Russia did not provide any written guarantees, and the entire rhetoric of the country about being “cheated” (this exact word was recently used by Putin) is based on a phrase uttered more than 30 years ago. At the same time, long-term diplomacy relies on official documents, not verbal assurances.
The USSR (and later Russia) expressed readiness to join NATO, but not seriously
It is noteworthy that at the level of verbal assurances, Russia did not even rule out the possibility of joining NATO. Although, of course, this should not be taken literally. The Russian (and Soviet) diplomatic school allows the use of such rhetorical techniques.
Why is this necessary? To “feel out” the other side and keep the initiative in your own hands; to make other countries react, inadvertently revealing their intentions. This was the case, for example, in 1954, when the USSR raised the issue of joining NATO. The proposal was voiced by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov – and in the West, his words were perceived as a political move. Later, similar ideas were expressed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and even Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow saw the NATO operation in Kosovo as a threat
There have been several truly turning points in the relationship between Russia and NATO. One of them is the NATO operation in Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, which Moscow perceived as extremely painful. In Russia, it is customary to consider this operation as “aggression of the alliance against a sovereign country” and not delve into its context. And this is important – although it is impossible to tell about it in all nuances within the framework of this text.
Therefore – briefly. In 1998, Kosovo was an autonomous province within Serbia, and Serbia was effectively the main republic in Yugoslavia. In 1998, brutal fighting broke out in Kosovo between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians who wanted independence. To stop the conflict, in early 1999, the so-called Contact Group from NATO and Russia held talks between Yugoslav authorities and Kosovar Albanians in France.
The result was supposed to be the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo and its transformation into an autonomous region within the whole of Yugoslavia. However, the Serbian delegation refused to sign this agreement, talks failed, and the war in Kosovo continued. As a result, the alliance began its own military operation to resolve the situation – it stopped the war between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. Already in June 1999, the administration of the UN was established in Kosovo, and in 2008 the independence of Kosovo was proclaimed. Over time, the then Yugoslav military-political leadership, led by Slobodan Milosevic, went to the international tribunal on charges of war crimes.
All of this historical context is necessary to understand: for the Kremlin, Yugoslavia became an example of how an alliance can use force against a corrupt authoritarian regime that suppresses its citizens. Apparently, the Russian government saw this as a threat to itself. One of the consequences of this was that in the summer of 1999, when the second Chechen war was already escalating in the Caucasus, the Russian army conducted massive exercises “West-99” aimed at practicing actions against NATO. The “Yugoslav syndrome” still influences Moscow’s rhetoric and actions to this day.
The Kremlin began to pursue a more assertive foreign policy
In the second half of the 2000s, a course towards revanchism prevailed in Russian foreign policy. The country’s leadership decided that the time for concessions had passed and that a tougher approach was necessary in relation to NATO (and even the West as a whole).
Russia began to achieve the status of guarantor of security in Europe with more radical methods. In February 2007, Vladimir Putin delivered his famous “Munich speech”, and six months later, Russia suspended the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – a document signed by six NATO countries and six OSCE countries in 1990 that limited the number of weapons that parties could deploy on the continent. With its exit from this agreement, Russia automatically relieved itself of all obligations unilaterally.
In August 2008, Russia waged a five-day war against Georgia, as a result of which it recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (only Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, and Syria did the same). In 2008-2009, Moscow developed a draft agreement on European security. It wanted to legally establish the “indivisibility of security on the European continent” at the international level so that “no state or international organization in the Euro-Atlantic region” could “strengthen its security at the expense of the security of other countries and organizations.” However, no one signed the agreement.
The annexation of Crimea and the attempt to destroy the sovereignty of Ukraine through the creation of “Novorossiya” from Kharkiv to Odessa in 2014 led to a new stage of confrontation with NATO. It was further aggravated by the military operation in Syria, interference in American elections, and cases of the use of chemical weapons against people who opposed the authorities.
Therefore, by the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the relations between Russia and NATO were already very, very complex. However, Russian aggression practically destroyed them completely.
Chapter 5. What will happen to NATO next – against the backdrop of war and after it.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 has negated the results of Russia’s foreign policy of the past 30 years, as well as the country’s attempts to develop within the framework of the global economy.
By the very fact of aggression, the Russian government has proven the necessity of NATO’s existence and the necessity of its expansion – that is, that which it had been fighting against for decades.
Therefore, NATO will continue to expand. In the near future, Sweden and Finland will definitely become members of the alliance. Moreover, they are fully prepared for this in all institutional and military parameters – to such an extent that they do not even need their own action plans for membership.
In addition, in the near future, we will probably see the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the alliance. And of course, it is not excluded that Ukraine and Georgia will one day join NATO – although much depends on the outcome of the current war and the further political situation in Russia.
The sharp reduction in the number of “non-block” states on the continent and the destruction of the remnants of Russian influence in Europe is one of the most important negative consequences of the war for the current regime in Russia. The space for diplomatic and economic maneuvering for the country’s elite is literally disappearing before our eyes.
However, if the alliance is seen as a threat to the elite, the existence and expansion of NATO does not contradict the objective interests of Russian society (not the government, but society).
In principle, there are only two areas that represent an objective public interest, also known as national interest – security and prosperity. NATO does not threaten Russia’s state security, as it exists to respond to threats and aggression (and often does so quite slowly). Russia’s very existence is not a threat to the alliance, but the actions of the Russian authorities in redrawing borders on the continent and destroying neighboring peoples – yes.
As for welfare, the longstanding expenses of the state budget to confront NATO and attempts to subjugate neighbors are a loss for every citizen. Except for those, of course, for whom confrontation and subjugation are sources of employment and orders.
Russia will sooner or later have to seek peace with Ukraine and Georgia, withdraw troops from there, and also end the confrontation with NATO – if the Kremlin, of course, does not decide to test the alliance’s strength with the remaining military force. However, this decision could be fatal for Russia – and call into question its status as a capable subject of international relations.
In order to improve relations with the world (and specifically with NATO), Russia will need profound political and economic changes within itself. The direction of these changes is obvious – it’s political and economic freedoms, as well as the complete elimination of the system of constant humiliation of citizens by the government and political elites.
It sounds grand and complicated – and for some of you, such a scenario may even seem fantastic. But other states have successfully gone this path – including those that are now part of NATO.
Possibly, their experience will be useful for Russia.