Russia, Ukraine, and the NATO Establishment
William Onubogu, ‘22
Ukraine and Russia. Amongst the most popular google searches currently, seemingly intertwined as a right shoe is to its left. And with each step made by both parties, portrayed as equidistant from one another. Steps of overtaken Crimea, steps of pushing for NATO alignment, and the Russian steps of war. I open with this because as much as this is a news article, it is important to understand this situation from a neutral perspective. Russia may seem like the sole aggressor; but to understand this conflict, one must take a look into where the escalations begin; which is most notably at the end of the Cold War.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was originally created with the intent of counteracting post-war Soviet Union expansion in Europe. And NATO was successful as the Soviet Union dissolved rather quickly and Russia was born. So what would become of NATO? Former State Department official Strobe Talbott said of the situation in 2000, “ that [freezing NATO in its Cold War membership] would mean perpetuating the Iron Curtain as a permanent fixture on the geopolitical landscape and locking newly liberated and democratic states out of the security that the Alliance affords. So instead, we chose to bring in new members while trying to make a real post-Cold War mission for NATO in partnership with Russia.” This was the angle, but in actuality, Russia viewed NATO’s continued existence differently.
Specifically, in the 1990s, many Russian officials still saw the country as having a natural sphere of influence, extending in some cases to Eastern Europe. Thus, at least some Russians saw former Warsaw Pact countries opting to join NATO as a threat to this sphere of influence. Furthermore, NATO historically has acted against Russian allies in ensuing conflicts with a nation. For example, the Kosovo conflict (1998–99) was due to ethnic Albanians opposing ethnic Serbs and the government of Yugoslavia in Kosovo. NATO intervened in the conflict and launched airstrikes which was with the knowledge that the conflict included Serbians who allied with Russia.
Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leader often held in high regard for his willingness to align himself with western nations and democracies, said this of NATO, “The eastward expansion of NATO is a mistake and a serious one at that. Nevertheless, in order to minimize the negative consequences for Russia, we decided to sign an agreement with NATO.” This all foreshadows the conflicts we see today: Russia vs. Ukraine and NATO encroachment on Russia. We need to understand that if there was an alliance between Russia and Mexico, we would be uncomfortable too, so understand NATO not only as a peacekeeper, but as the perceived threat Russia sees in its establishment.
The Ukraine-Russia war as it presents itself currently has led to these statistics: 2,613 casualties, 252 being children; more than four million refugees over a three-month span, 3,000 soldiers dead, and these statistics are only climbing. Sanctions have been established and ramped up with President Biden, and G7 Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom as well as the countries part of the European Union will announce new economic actions to hold Putin accountable. Many leaders have condemned Putin, recently with Boris Johnson saying, “[Putin] has crossed a red line into barbarism with his invasion of Ukraine”. Joe Biden also said “Putin cannot remain in power”. Chancellor Olaf Sholz even said despite early hesitation “This is an invasion on an independent, sovereign country that can’t be justified by anyone or anything.”
It is clear that there are many people opposing the Russian invasion, which only raises further questions. Where will this lead us?. WWIII? peace? A ceasefire? Or a new establishment of the Russian government in Ukraine? And what may that mean for other former Soviet republics? The Russia-Ukrainian conflict is one that can reshape the geopolitical spheres of influence for years to come.