We are hearing all kinds of complaints by the Russian leadership in recent weeks, accompanied by a troop buildup near Ukraine. Allegedly, NATO has been threatening Russia, and that somehow justifies whatever Putin may deem justified.
Let’s clarify some points, and hint at solutions.
- NATO is not threatening Russia. It is a defense organization. Even in Soviet times, NATO was the response to Soviet aggression, not the other way round. Previous aggression against Russia by Napoleonic France or against the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany are ancient history and are not relevant in this context.
- The Soviet Union threatened or occupied several of the countries and territories now under NATO protection. Stalin attacked Poland on September 17, 1939, a bit more than two weeks that Hitler attacked on September 1. In June 1940, the Soviets occupied the Baltic States, and after the War, the Soviets forced several Central, Eastern, South-Eastern European and Central Asian countries into their colonial imperial system. This reign of terror lasted until the 1990s. Yes, the Soviet Union defeated Nazism in a fight that was nothing if not heroic – but it also, sadly, became an oppressing force in itself.
- After the end of the Cold War, countries that had been antagonized, conquered or colonized by the Soviet Union were racing to be under the protection of NATO, of their own free will. No single signed treaty prevented that, and no informal side conversation that may or may not have happened is relevant here. Ideas get tossed around at meetings all the time, what matters is what is on paper. A signed treaty is the final word on the matter. NATO expansion was legal, wanted, and sanctioned by the Soviets and its successor, the Russian Federation. Everything else is propaganda.
- Since then, many chances to welcome Russia into NATO have not been pursued, which was a mistake. Russia belongs to the West, it can and should be seen as a future ally. Russian culture is second to none, the Russian people would benefit from being part of the largest alliance on the planet. Many chances were squandered, but we should revisit the topic and move forward, together.
- On Georgia, the West was partially in the wrong. When Georgia gained independence, it failed to release South Ossetia, Adjara and Abkhazia into independence as well. The West misunderstood the issue and supported the wrong side. However, none of that justified Putin’s war – such issues need to be resolved diplomatically, not militarily.
- On Kosova, Putin was in the wrong. Serbia tried to keep Yugoslavia together by forcing Serb leadership on nations desiring independence.
- On Transnistria, I am not sure, but it seems both sides of the same country should be unified.
- On Crimea, Sebastopol should remain a Russian harbor, but the rest of Crimea should be part of Ukraine – or there could at least be some negotiation about shared governance over some areas, similar maybe to the Cyprus solution, where British airbases are still taking up large swathes of land.
- The Luhansk and Donetsk “independent republics” should return to Ukraine. But some form of federal structure with local autonomy status – especially for Russian-speaking parts – may be needed and helpful.
- Both Ukraine and Russia should start a process for NATO membership – together. While Russia does not have a right to a buffer state, Ukraine and Russia share a long history, and Russian and Ukrainian cultural history are intertwined deeply.
We all want peace, we want business to thrive, and we want to secure the future.