We have been hearing in the past weeks and months from President Putin that he felt that Russia was threatened by NATO. This is nonsense, and he knows it. We have also heard that NATO promised to never expand to the East. This is also nonsense, and he knows it. Rule Number One: Putin lies.
During the times of German unification and the fall of the Soviet Union, there have indeed been discussions about the expansion of NATO. Some conversations did indeed go in the direction of NATO not expanding into the east – but this was all these were, conversations, deliberations, early positionings. All politicians do this. It is part of negotiations. What matters is whether these were fixed in writing, codified in treaties: they were not. This is all that matters in international law. Case closed.
But even more so, NATO only expanded in the sense that it gained member states. But it has never, to this day, stationed any troops of attack strength at Russia’s borders. This way, NATO has guaranteed that Russia did not have to feel threatened.
So, what is Putin talking about?
There is indeed a very specific threat posed by NATO, but it is strictly defensive: Membership in NATO threatens any invader with a strong reaction to an attack on a member state. NATO thus threatens Russia in its desire to violate the sovereignty of its member countries. This is it: Had Ukraine been a NATO member state, Russia could never have viciously been waging war against Ukraine since 2014.
Thus what Putin is saying is the following: If you do not want Russia to attack you, join NATO immediately. Otherwise, beware.