NATO should actively counter the Kremlin’s claim that the Western military alliance is expanding with the aim of threatening Russia, says a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.
Russia’s new national security strategy, signed by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, identifies NATO expansion as the number one threat to Russia. It says that the alliance, led by the United States, is intensifying military activities in NATO member countries and “moving military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders.” The Russian strategy paper also claims that by implementing a “policy of containment of Russia” through “political, economic, military and informational pressure,” NATO is “attempting to maintain dominance in global affairs.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker says that the Kremlin is continually pressing its narrative against the West, claiming that NATO broke its promises to Russia.
“Russia has this narrative that NATO promised to never expand, never to put military infrastructure on the territory of new members,” Volker told VOA’s Georgian service. “Russia feels that NATO is threatening Russia and it has the right to defend itself and its citizens; it claims that there was a coup d’état in Ukraine and NATO was pushing Ukraine into NATO and Russia had to intervene in order to save Ukraine. All of this is completely wrong, completely false.”
Volker says if NATO lets this narrative stand without a forceful Western response, it will give the impression that the Kremlin’s argument has merit.
He is urging NATO to take a unified stance and develop a clear strategy toward Russia at its Warsaw meeting in July.
Russia changes the equation
Mamuka Tsereteli, director of the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute, a Washington-based think tank, says Russia’s strategy towards the West has changed significantly in the past decade.
“Russia is trying to change the European security architecture,” he told VOA. “In this new environment, Russia would like to have a veto right on every country’s decision to join NATO or the European Union. This is a violation of those countries’ sovereign rights to choose their future. Russia is trying to get consent from the West on this approach.”
In the NATO-Russia Founding Act, signed on May 27, 1997, the alliance agreed that “in the current and foreseeable security environment,” NATO will carry out its collective defense mission using existing military infrastructure “rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.”
Since then, the security environment has changed dramatically. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and recognized two of its regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – as independent states. In 2015, it annexed Crimea. The Kremlin has been supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine for more than two years. In addition, Russia has violated many of the agreements signed with the West, including the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the Vienna Document, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the Budapest Memorandum and others.
Volker says it is important to explain that NATO is a defensive alliance that is not threatening anyone, and that NATO enlargement is a long process in which free people in independent countries work together to build their own security – not a NATO-led effort to acquire territories to encircle Russia. The West, he says, should continue to explain and discuss these issues publicly.
“Our leaders tend to duck away from these issues,” Volker said. “They do not want to provoke a confrontational atmosphere with Russia, whereas Russia is quite happy to have a confrontational atmosphere…By acceding Russia’s argument, or letting the Russian narrative stand, it gives an appearance of credence to that narrative. It is very important for Western leaders to push back very forcibly instead.”
The Warsaw Summit is scheduled to take place July 8-9.