As Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine continues, NATO is drawn deeper and deeper into the morass.
While many NATO companies are supplying Ukraine with arms and equipment, the war is creating a change in the organization itself.
Finland and Sweden, both with long histories of neutrality, have applied for membership in NATO. That action was solely motivated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Sweden and Finland having strategically placed borders with Russia. Switzerland, of all places, is contemplating joint military exercises with NATO.
If Russia was torqued by the idea of Ukraine possibly being considered for NATO membership in the future, it can’t be pleased by this development. Finland has an 830-mile frontier that encompasses land stripped from Finland by the USSR at the end of World War II and the Arctic, where Russia believes its economic solvency lies. One of Sweden’s counties, the island of Gotland, is some 200 miles from the strategic Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Yes, there is a hiccup as Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatens to veto membership over the issues of an arms embargo and a demand for the extraction of a handful of members of the Kurdish PKK faction and the Gulen movement.
More importantly, the fundamental relationship between NATO and Russia, and therefore the very nature of European geopolitics, is on the verge of change.
NATO Expected to Brand Russian Behavior a Direct Threat (12:19 p.m.)
NATO allies are expected to highlight Russia’s behavior as a direct threat in an upcoming strategic document, where they’ll also address how to better support neighboring countries that are vulnerable to coercion and aggression, according to a NATO official.
Allies will likely keep open the possibility of reviving relations if Moscow’s behavior changes, the official said, adding that the document will also address China and its relationship with Russia.
The so-called Strategic Concept document outlines the alliance’s priorities for the coming years, and is due to be finalized at NATO’s summit in Madrid in late June. The previous version, published in 2010, referred to Russia as a partner, wording that is set to be scrapped this time.
This marks a stark contrast to 1994 when Russia became the first member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and 1997 when NATO and Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
On 27 May 1997, NATO leaders and President Boris Yeltsin signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, expressing their determination to “build together a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area on the principles of democracy and cooperative security.” The Act established the goal of cooperation in areas such as peacekeeping, arms control, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and theatre missile defence. In the Founding Act, NATO and Russia agreed to base their cooperation on the principles of human rights and civil liberties, refraining from the threat or use of force against each other or any other state.
In 2010, NATO’s Strategic Concept document considered Russia to be a strategic partner in European security:
NATO-Russia cooperation is of strategic importance as it contributes to creating a common space of peace, stability and security. NATO poses no threat to Russia. On the contrary: we want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia, and we will act accordingly, with the expectation of reciprocity from Russia.
By 2020, all illusions about Russia’s intentions had vanished. In the rearview mirror was the war on Georgia, the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the fomenting of a civil war in Ukraine, followed by the creation of two Potemkin republics. This is the NATO 2020 Strategic Concept.
Because Russia’s future policies toward NATO remain difficult to predict, the Allies must pursue the goal of cooperation while also guarding against the possibility that Russia could decide to move in a more adversarial direction
When you add to this Russia’s blatant violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that compelled President Trump to withdraw from it and the frequent use of poisons, including nerve agents, to try and assassinate Putin’s foes (among the victims was the pro-Western candidate for president of Ukraine in 2014), Russia has cemented a reputation as a rogue state.
There is a lot of chatter in some corners of the right that this rupture of NATO-Russia relations is solely the fault of NATO (and of Hunter Biden, George Soros, Victoria Nuland, the New World Order, the World Economic Forum, Hans Schwab, etc.) who “baited” Russia into attacking Ukraine. We are supposed to believe that Russia is entitled…perhaps by divine right…to a sphere of influence where it can set foreign and domestic policy for client states while those unfortunate states have no voice in their own future. Supposedly, Russia demands no more of Ukraine than we require of Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. While it makes for entertaining reading, if the people around you aren’t disturbed by an occasional guffaw, it doesn’t reflect the real history of NATO and Russia.
The underlying cause seems to be that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a vision of Russia’s place in the world shaped by the Russian Empire under the Romanovs and his career as a KGB thug. Russia is in a demographic death spiral. Any social pathology you wish to name–AIDS, alcoholism, reduced life expectancy, drug abuse, abortion, for starters–has found a home in Russia. Russia’s GDP is about the size of New York’s. Rather than collaborate with the EU and NATO to everyone’s mutual benefit, Russia has tried to create parallel institutions: the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
One can hardly go through NATO-Russia relations since Putin ascended to President-for-Life status and not be reminded of the words of Lucifer/Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
I’m not a prophet, but I’m not sure you have to be one to see how this movie ends (spoiler alert: it doesn’t involve nukes). The end of the war in Ukraine, assuming that it is even possible to conclude that war with Putin or anyone like him in power in Moscow, will not change the relationship between NATO and Russia. Economic sanctions are going to stay in place for years. The Russian military will further decline in power as the lack of components for modern weaponry and munitions become impossible to acquire. There will be an accounting between Russian society, at least the lower rungs of it, and the Russian military that lied to them about the fate of their sons. Russia’s GDP will decline, as will its standard of living.
The shame of it all is that it was imminently avoidable. All it took was a Russian leader with enough vision to see that Russia’s future did not lie in military power and expansionism.
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