Russia has succeeded in exerting pressure on the Western powers by threatening to unleash a nuclear war. The threat of a nuclear crisis, which Moscow previously applied against the United States and its allies, is once again working to the Kremlin’s benefit.
Meanwhile, Moscow is demonstrating a rapprochement with China in order to shift the attention of Western decision-makers from the Russian threat and to force allies to opt for opposing the China expansion, while agreeing to meet the conditions imposed by Russia.
The Kremlin is trying to convince the West that it is ready to raise stakes, up to launching preemptive nuclear strikes – a bluff that is aimed to coerce the West to certain concessions.
Russian media claim that Putin has proposed starting substantive negotiations to secure solid legal guarantees of NATO’s non-expansion eastward.
Putin has long sincerely believed in the myth that in 1990 German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher allegedly promised his Soviet counterpart that NATO would cease further expansion in exchange for an accord greenlighting unification of Germany. It is known that the KGB had indeed been trying to make such a deal happen. However, even if such verbal agreements did exist, although no convincing evidence exists to prove it, the collapse of the Soviet Union has annulled them, while the accession to the Alliance of the Baltic countries set a precedent for NATO to expand further. In 1990, Russia was not an independent actor in international politics, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, it is not entitled to claim continuity as regards any verbal agreements allegedly sealed with an entity that is no longer part of the world’s political map.
Putin is now striving to once again distort history, manipulate reality, and strengthen anti-Western sentiments within Russia. The Russian narrative is focused around the allegation that the West has been deceiving Russia, acting in such a way as to leave it beyond the European community in the post-Cold War period. One way or another, Russia agreed to NATO’s expansion, with detailed terms spelled out in writing in the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. Its preamble states that Russia and NATO do not consider each other as adversaries.
Thus, now Russia is trying to force the Alliance to violate its own charter, which defines the right of any country that is part of the Euro-Atlantic region to apply for NATO membership. It is obvious that Moscow is seeking legal guarantees that the countries of the post-Soviet space and the Balkans, awaiting Brussels’ decision on membership in the collective defense organization, will be snubbed and, as a result, come under Kremlin’s control. If Putin secures such legally-binding guarantees, this will allow him to launch the active stage of restoring what is believed to become a new version of the Soviet Union, which in turn was precisely the reason why NATO was created in the first place.
When Germany was admitted to NATO in 1955, much of its territory was controlled by the Soviets. This is similar to the situation of Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. However, back in the day, Western powers were guided by more resolute convictions where democracy was prioritized and the countries to self-determination were duly respected. Even amid a nerve-wrecking Cuban missile crisis, the situation didn’t change .
West Germany’s accession to NATO led to the signing on May 14, 1955, of the Warsaw Pact. Signed at Moscow’s initiative, the Pact laid down foundations for creating a military alliance of socialist states. However, this didn’t stop NATO’s further expansion either.
A legally-binding refusal to expand eastward will not improve the situation in any way. On the contrary, it is set to contribute to further escalation of tensions:
– Russia will perceive such an agreement as a manifestation of weakness and swiftly absorb the countries of the post-Soviet space that haven’t yet become NATO Allies.
This will lead to a destructive deformation of democracy across Eastern Europe and the expansion of the Russian military presence in the region. De facto, Europe will see Ukraine becoming another Belarus and face a possibility of offensive Russian weapons being deployed on European Union borders. Russia’s political and economic blackmail will expand in range and scope.
The Kremlin won’t be able to offer the West any reciprocal guarantees in exchange for the legal confirmation of the non-expansion policy, since Moscow traditionally ignores international treaties and interprets them to their own benefit. For example, in 1997, Ukraine and Russia signed a Treaty of friendship, cooperation and partnership, in which the parties recognized the inviolability of existing borders, respect for territorial integrity, and a mutual obligation to refrain from using their territory to the detriment of each other’s security. Russia cynically violated the treaty in 2014 during the Crimea annexation attempt and their military incursion in Donbas. At the same time, Ukraine was a neutral state at the time, which was properly reflected in the country’s Constitution.
Moscow was also a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed Ukraine security, but eventually proved legally null and void, which was confirmed by the military conflict launched by Russia in the east of the neighboring country in order to distract international attention from the Crimea grab.
– Any non-expansion treaty with Moscow would require a revision of the Washington Treaty, especially its Article 10, and deal a blow to the Alliance as an institution whose decisions can be influenced by a power that threatens its members and sovereign democracies.
The very possibility of a dictatorship being able to affect the security of the Euro-Atlantic space calls into question the values guarded by the Alliance and poses before Europe a threat of returning to the state of 1939, when the League of Nations failed to stop the violent altering of Europe’s borders. The documents issued by the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, released just recently, testify to Moscow’s ongoing efforts to achieve NATO’s disintegration. Agreeing to the Kremlin-imposed pact on non-expansion would lead to an imbalance within the organization and strengthening of the Russia-China axis, as well as send a signal toward destabilization in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
After the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, such a decision may cost Washington its geopolitical weight in the region and the latter’s militarization along with the aggravation of bilateral relations in the Eastern Europe. Against this backdrop, the Kremlin will seek to reduce the U.S. military presence in Europe, which will further increase security risks in the region.