Ukraine crisis: How Putin feeds the anger over NATO’s eastward expansion | Ukraine

IIt has been more than 13 years since the NATO summit in Bucharest, the meeting which agreed that the Western alliance wanted the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia to become members. But in many ways, the legacy of that April 2008 meeting – the last in which Vladimir Putin attended – hangs over the Ukrainian crisis today.

George W Bush arrived in an expansionist, post-Cold War frame of mind, pushing Ukraine and Georgia to receive a roadmap for NATO membership. Granting them a so-called Membership Action Plan would allow the two countries to follow a series of former Eastern Bloc states allowed to join since 1999.

Putin, however, addressed the assembled leaders at the start of the meeting, describing such a move as a “direct threat” to Russian security. “I remember he clearly said to Angela Merkel and Bush: ‘For me Ukraine is not a real country,” said Jamie Shea, who spent 38 years in NATO.

Putin’s language helped produce a partial retreat – and a problematic compromise.

“There were furious bargaining with Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy [the then French president] and the result was that Ukraine would be offered membership in the future, but there would be no action plan for membership, no firm date to join NATO, ”said Shea .

New NATO member states

As a result, the issue was left open as NATO and its members were not fully committed to Ukraine. “I was actually there,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press appearance with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last week. “We stand by this decision.”

But the half-promise remains an open wound for the longtime leader of Russia, obsessed with the two nations’ long history before 1991 as a single country. “I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is only possible in partnership with Russia,” Putin wrote. in a historical essay released by the Kremlin in July. “Because we are one people. “

During this winter’s crisis, Russia massed around 100,000 troops in the north, east and south of Ukraine, raising fears among NATO allies of invasion and conflict “on a scale. never seen since World War II, ”according to Britain’s new leader. the armed forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin. But last week, the attention-seeking Kremlin turned to a series of diplomatic demands.

Russia presented draft security treaty to the United States before making it public. Its provisions state that the United States should prevent Ukraine, Georgia and other former Soviet states from joining NATO. He also insists that the United States should not establish military bases or even engage in “bilateral military cooperation” with Ukraine or any other Soviet non-NATO state – an attempt to secede. carve out a clearly defined Russian sphere of influence.

A Russian soldier participates in exercises in the Rostov region near its border with Ukraine. Photography: AP

Such an idea is clearly controversial, especially in Eastern Europe, where memories of Communist rule remain. “Russia has proposed two draft treaties on December 17 describe the establishment of a two-tier Europe – one having the right to defend itself against Russian encroachment while the other must accept Russian supremacy as a new geopolitical reality, ”wrote Orysia Lutsevych, analyst Chatham House Think Tank, in a recent article.

Other experts argue that NATO has become overconfident. Joshua Shifrinson, associate professor of international relations at Boston University, said the United States and the West “in the great sweep of post-Cold War relations have become less responsive to Russian concerns,” losing view the idea that the Kremlin also has a vital role to play. interests.

He added: “Russia does not want other political formations to be present near their homeland. It is not difficult to understand. Imagine if China formed an alliance with Canada. Powerful states do not want other powers to form alliances near their borders.

Shifrinson, a historian, said that at the end of the Cold War American and German strategists gave “very clear signals” that NATO would not expand further east if Germany was allowed. to get together. But this sphere of influence commitment was quickly abandoned in the 1990s and early 2000s, as Russia struggled as an independent country and a series of Eastern Bloc countries joined in. ‘NATO and the EU.

Critics of this thought argue that NATO’s recent support for Ukraine has been too weak. “It is a lack of resolute action in the past that has taught Russia to [can] move upmarket and downgrade a crisis whenever they want, ”said William Alberque, a former US NATO official and now director of the think tank at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Russia has all the momentum in the current crisis,” he added, as the United States and NATO agreed to hold talks with Kremlin diplomats in the new year.

Ukraine has already had to endure the war of 2014, when Russia seized Crimea and helped create a crisis that led separatists to hold the eastern Donbass region, where an unresolved and weak conflict intensity broke. claimed the lives of around 14,000. NATO allies have responded with a consistent but modest level of military support since 2014.

Ukrainian soldiers launch US-supplied Javelin missile during military exercises in Donetsk region
Ukrainian soldiers launch a US-supplied Javelin missile during military exercises in the Donetsk region. Photography: AP

About a hundred American military trainers are based in the west of the country, far from the front line. Washington has provided $ 2.5 billion in military aid, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, since the capture of Crimea by Russia, as part of a progressive strategy to modernize Kiev’s forces and officially the precursor of Ukraine’s accession to NATO.

More irritating for the Kremlin was Kiev’s purchase of at least six TB2 drones from Turkey, whose effectiveness against Russian-made armor was demonstrated in the short Nagorno-Karabakh war last year when it was used by Azerbaijan against Armenia. Deploying the drones, Putin told his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a phone call in early December, was “provocative”.

NATO repeatedly stresses that it poses no military threat to Russia. Earlier this month, for example, Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said it was “very unlikely” that Western troops would be sent to defend Ukraine in the event of an attack.

But Shifrinson said that while the West thought it was moving slowly, it needed to better understand how its actions were viewed. “Moscow understands that Ukraine is not armed to the teeth or anchored in the West tomorrow, but at the same time it asks where Ukraine will go in the future.”

Christi C. Elwood