Twenty days had passed since the beginning of the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine when Volodymyr Zelensky finally had the courage to say what everyone knew in Western chancelleries, but very few dared to express. “For years we have heard that the gate (to enter NATO) was supposedly open, but now we hear that we can’t get in. It’s true and we have to admit it”, said the resigned ukrainian president before the leaders of the United Kingdom Joint Expeditionary Force. His words definitely turned off one of the misunderstandings that have contributed most to feeding the misgivings of the Kremlin towards the West In recent years, one of the reasons Vladimir Putin used to justify the illegal war waged by his forces in Ukraine.
It is impossible to go back in time. Nothing justifies the indiscriminate offensive that is destroying a country and burying thousands of innocent people. But there are many authoritative voices that for years warned that the NATO expansion towards Russian borderswith the integration of 14 ex-communist countries into its organizational chart, would end up leading to a new war in Europe. A process that began precisely when Russia built more bridges towards its European neighbors in its eagerness to integrate into the globalized economy after initially embracing the capitalism in its most orthodox version.
“It’s a tragic mistake”wrote in 1998 George Kennanthe architect of the containment policy towards Moscow that prevailed during the Cold War. Shortly before, the US Senate had endorsed the inclusion in the Atlantic Alliance from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republicthe first three countries of the former Warsaw pact that joined NATO. “I think the Russians will react adversely and it will affect their policies. There is no reason to do it. no one is threatening anyone”, Kennan added at the time. Something similar had been said Strobe TalbottUnder Secretary of State with bill clinton. “Many Russians see NATO as a vestige of the cold war, inherently directed against his country. They underline that they dismantled their military alliance, the Warsaw Pact, and ask why the West does not do the same”.
NATO’s eastward expansion
The Alliance continued to march east and, as Kennan had predicted, the winds in the Kremlin began to change after Putin came to power. The former KGB agent returned the nostalgia for great russia to the foreground, seasoned with nationalism and a renewed militarismwhile presenting NATO’s approach to its borders as a “existential threat” for Russia. Whether real or imagined. “NATO has put the front line of its forces on our borders. Is a serious provocation which lowers the level of mutual trust,” he said during the 2007 Munich Security Conference.
Far from listening to him, the Alliance gave a year later what would be his biggest misstep, whose consequences continue to be paid today. In the Bucharest Summit from april 2008 opened the door to integration of Ukraine and Georgia in its organizational chart and “agreed that these countries will become members of NATO”, according to the official statement. The Russian warnings expressed until then through diplomatic channels gave way to weapons. that month of august Putin invaded Georgia under the pretext of supporting the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetiawhich have remained since then as two buffer territories between Tbilisi (pro-western) and the Russian border.
A bluff with serious consequences
Perhaps most unfortunate of all is that the Bucharest pronouncement was essentially a bluffas recognized by the former Secretary General of NATO Javier Solana. “There was a mistake at that summit when succumbing to the temptation to speak in such a way that it seemed that Ukraine and Georgia were going to enter in the Atlantic Alliance”, he said recently in an interview with EL PERIÓDICO DE ESPAÑA. That accession processalmost always long and complex, didn’t go anywhere. First, because the then Ukrainian president, the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovychstopped it dead in 2010. And second, because NATO never had much interest in reviving it, aware of the risks involved and the extreme difficulty that would have involved obtaining the unanimous support of the 30 Alliance partners.
That bad poker play it fueled Putin’s paranoia or, at the very least, served as an argument to justify his agenda. “Putin is not satisfied with the European security architecture, he wants destroy the international order emerged after the end of the Cold War, and deliberately went to war even knowing that it would be complicated and would have serious consequences, ”Crisis Group analyst Oleg Ignatov tells this newspaper from Moscow. His demands on the US and NATO in the weeks leading up to the offensive leave little room for doubt. Among other things, he demanded the withdrawal of NATO weapons and troops stationed in the former communist countries and a commitment that there will be no further expansion to the east. Including Ukraine, which in 2017 it amended its Constitution to reflect entry into the Alliance as a priority national objective.
logically reluctant to negotiate at gunpoint, the Alliance gave him long. What Putin used to justify the invasion, citing among other reasons that Russia tried for 30 years to unsuccessfully negotiate an agreement on security in Europe with NATO while the Alliance continued to expand eastward. “The war machine it continues to move and, I repeat, it is approaching our borders,” he said hours before the start of the invasion.
And now it has returned to the starting square again. As Kremlin troops rampage through Ukrainian cities, a ceasefire is negotiated that has the ukrainian neutrality the central point of the Russian demands. Or what is the same, his goodbye forever to NATO.
“In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine was formally a neutral state and it was of no use to it,” recalls Ignatov. “What Moscow understands by neutrality is the right to influence and manipulate Ukrainian domestic and foreign policy. That’s what you’re looking for.” But this war has changed many things. Ties that existed then have been broken. And it is highly debatable this time that kyiv and its allies are going to accept a neutrality that once again leads to a puppet state at the service of the Kremlin.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.