The combination of Russia’s decades-old fears of a NATO expansion to the east and its own invasion of Ukraine seems to have had a negative effect: non-aligned Finland and Sweden are strongly considering joining the anti-Russian alliance and increasing tense resistance between Moscow and the West.
“A kind of ‘new isolation’ is how the Russian public views NATO’s expansion to the east.” At least, according to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who wrote a long letter to his American counterpart, “Dear Bill” Clinton in 1993, when it became clear that some of the former satellite states in the Soviet Union wanted to change sides.
“Of course,” he wrote, “each country can determine its fidelity,” but it would go against the “Two Plus Four Treaty” (between East and West Germany, France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union) which led to German reunification in 1990, which, Yeltsin said, “ruled out the possibility of expanding the NATO zone to the east.”
But the Two Plus Four Treaty says no such thing. It states that “the right of the united Germany to belong to alliances shall not be affected by this Treaty.” In practice, this meant that the former Warsaw Pact member East Germany – now merged with NATO member West Germany, would also be part of the alliance. But the treaty did not say a word about other former Warsaw Pact countries joining NATO.
In fact, the oft-cited promise that NATO would not expand to the east was never signed into any treaty. But some of the wording uttered by American negotiators was, consciously or not, vague.
Probably the most used of Moscow’s propaganda is a quote from US Secretary of State James Baker, who said during a meeting with Soviet last leader Michael Gorbachev in February 1990, three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that “there would be no extension.” of NATO jurisdiction for NATO forces one inch to the east. “
According to the minutes of a meeting between then-President Yeltsin and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Moscow on October 22, 1993 – which took place after Yeltsin’s “Dear Bill” letter and was released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, Christopher said Russia would not “ignored or excluded from full participation in Europe’s future security” but integrated into a “Partnership for Peace” that would put Russia and other newly independent former Soviet republics (“NIS”) on an equal footing with NATO.
According to the account, Yeltsin was enthusiastic and said that the idea “serves to dispel all the tensions we now have in Russia regarding Eastern European states and their ambitions with regard to NATO … now we are all equal and it will ensure equal participation on the basis” of partnership. ” Problem solved, no expansion to the east?
The opposite happened. In five waves, beginning in 1999, NATO expanded eastward, eagerly incorporating all former Warsaw Pact countries except Russia itself. In 1999, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined.
The biggest expansion
In 2004, four years after Yeltsin handed over Russia’s presidential reins to Vladimir Putin, NATO saw the largest expansion since its founding in 1949 with Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – joining.
The first four were former Warsaw Pact states. But what made Putin particularly angry was that the Baltic states belonged to the Soviet Union itself.
Relations between Putin and NATO countries were initially polite: the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established, Russia and the alliance engaged in joint military exercises, and Russia’s membership expanded the G7 to G8.
In his speech to the German Bundestag in 2001, in fluent German, Putin stated that Russia’s “heart was open to real cooperation and partnership” with the West.
But that came after he spoke out two years earlier against NATO’s first expansion after the Cold War.
Six years later, his tone had hardened considerably. Most of the former Warsaw Pact was now integrated into NATO, and Putin’s speech in 2007 in Munich (in Russian) marked a turning point.
He blamed NATO for “putting its front forces at our borders”, adding that the expansion “has nothing to do with the modernization of the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe.”
He branded it a “serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” Washington and its NATO partners hardly took note of the implicit warning.
Things escalated when the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine began to show interest in a possible NATO membership.
But increased Russian aggression against Georgia (invasion in 2008) and Ukraine (annexation of Crimea in 2014) may have led NATO partners to hesitate to ever seriously consider membership: the Alliance’s “collective defense” Article 5 stipulates that “an attack on one of its members means an attack against all “and would immediately draw the alliance into a direct confrontation with Moscow.
Finland and Sweden
But the entry of Russian armed forces into Ukraine in February 2022 and the ensuing conflict prompted two former non-aligned countries, Finland and Sweden, to consider joining NATO.
It could be the fastest NATO enlargement and one that would redraw Europe’s security map.
If they applied for membership, the move would have far-reaching consequences for northern Europe and transatlantic security.
This will undoubtedly irritate Moscow, which at least in part blames its war in Ukraine on NATO’s continued expansion closer to its borders.
It is unclear how Putin can take revenge. The Kremlin said on Thursday that it will definitely not improve European security.
Finland wants to join NATO “without delay” in a major political shift