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Renewed Tension between Russia and Ukraine Brings Further Strain on NATO-Russia Relations

Renewed Tension between Russia and Ukraine Brings Further Strain on NATO-Russia Relations

Monday, 27 December, 2021 - 18:00

Article 10 of the Washington Treaty of 1949, stipulates that any European State can be invited to join, on condition that there is consensus among the Allies. This basic principle stands.

In 1990’s NATO became the sanctuary for former Warsaw Pact countries seeking protection. After consecutive waves of enlargement which started with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, NATO now is a club with 30 members. North Macedonia was the most recent state to join in 2020.

The new security environment in the aftermath of the Cold War coupled with new threats and challenges and out of area operations necessitated engagement in different geographic areas with various countries, not all of them necessarily destined to become members.

New partnership mechanisms and procedures were designed in NATO, among them, Partnership for Peace program, Comprehensive Assistance Package, Partnership Interoperability Initiative, Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and forums with Russia and Ukraine. In some cases, partnerships are more symbolic and in others, cooperation goes deep.

NATO’s partnership with Ukraine

At the 2008 Bucharest Summit, NATO leaders declared that Ukraine (and Georgia) will become members of the Alliance. Ukraine had already joined the Partnership for Peace program in 1994. A few years later, NATO and Ukraine signed Charter on a Distinctive Partnership. Cooperation between NATO and Ukraine has deepened over time, but membership is not there yet.

Russian interference in parts of Ukraine in 2014, led to strong-worded protests, condemnations and sanctions from the West.

NATO members are clear about their non-recognition of the de facto situation in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. NATO demonstrated its solidarity with Ukraine in a number of ways including increasing its presence in the Black Sea and stepping up maritime cooperation. But then, sky is not the limit on what can be done.

Even though NATO stands by its decision to accept Ukraine as a new member, there are different views within the Alliance on the merits of enlarging with a country that is locked in serious territorial dispute and conflict with Russia.

Russia’s reaction to NATO expansion

President Putin described the demise of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and “a genuine tragedy” for tens of millions of Russians who found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory. This is a summary of Russia’s regrets and fears, which lays the foundations of its strategic mindset.

In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, Russia was preoccupied with various problems at the home front and conflict in Chechnya. It was not able to prevent NATO expansion with former Warsaw Pact countries.

Since 2000, a more confident and strong Russia has become vocal about its opposition to NATO enlargement. Russia claims that NATO has broken its promise not to move in when the Soviet Union withdrew from East Germany and Eastern Europe. Russia also challenges the defensive nature of NATO, sighting the Alliance’s deployments, building of additional military facilities and Black Sea activities.

NATO on the other hand, insists on its defensive nature and that deployments on Allied territory are in line with international commitments.

NATO has declared that no country outside the alliance can veto its decisions or influence the process to take in a new member. However, in reality, Russian sensitivities and influence have not been totally disregarded.

What now?

In past two decades, in a “Gerasimov Doctrine plus” framework, Russia has not shied away from using hybrid tactics and direct military action.

The most recent military build up led to speculations and concerns that Russia is getting ready to invade Ukraine.

Russia’s opposition to NATO expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia is strong, also based on strategic as well as historical claims. Russia requires NATO not to expand eastwards, not to take in Ukraine as a new member, not to deploy troops and weapons on Ukraine or other nearby territory. President Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” in case it is needed.

Russia has handed to the USA a draft treaty on security guarantees between itself and Russia and an agreement on measures to ensure the security of Russia and members of NATO. In response, NATO said it was ready for meaningful dialogue with Russia. It pointed out to reciprocity and the need for any dialogue to proceed on the basis of addressing NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions. In this framework, the Alliance stated its readiness to work on strengthening confidence-building measures, within the relevant fora.

In fact, NATO has been calling for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. But the agenda was a problem with Russia saying that it is not against holding a meeting, but this forum should be used for what it was created for, namely, to further enhance NATO-Russia relations and not to discuss Ukraine. Now this problem may have been overcome with a probable meeting in mid January.

In any case, would NATO go to war over Ukraine? President Biden said that the United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression. At the same time, he stressed that Article 5 does not apply in this case and there will be no military response. Having said that, he also threatened “extreme sanctions” on Russia if it moved into Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed this sentiment stating that any Russian aggression will come at a high price “with serious political and economic consequences”.

Further invasion of Ukraine territory would be self defeating for Russia. Ukrainian resistance coupled with defense assistance and sanctions of the West would not make life for Russia very uncomfortable. In fact, there are too many aspects of relations and interdependence among NATO and EU countries, Ukraine and Russia. Energy supplies and transit routes are among the most important. A war or an invasion would be extremely costly and destructive for all sides. So why would anybody want this and what purpose would it serve?

What we see now is more of a war of nerves and testing the other side. The best way to deal with the present tensions seems to opt for diplomacy and start talking about a safer security environment for all.

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