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Why does Russia want to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO?

Tensions continue to rise along the Russia-Ukraine border, where Moscow has bolstered its military presence, now estimated at around 130,000 troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied plans to invade the neighboring state, but presented a series of demands to the West, including an end to the eastern expansion of NATO membership to states ex-Soviets and the reduction of the military activity of the United States and the alliance. at the gates of Russia.

NATO said it was sending additional ships and fighter jets for its deployments in Eastern Europe, while the United States and the United Kingdom were withdrawing families of diplomats from Ukraine and some companies airlines had ceased commercial flights to the capital.

Meanwhile, Moscow has moved 30,000 troops and equipment to neighboring Belarus for military exercises, Kiev is responding with its own drone and anti-tank drills, and Washington is considering sending thousands of American troops to NATO allies in the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, according to media reports.

In Washington, DC, Mr Putin was warned not to even consider crossing the border with Ukraine by his American counterpart Joe Biden, who told the White House: “I had many discussions with the Russians , and in particular with Putin. I don’t know if he knows what he’s going to do, and I think he must realize that it would be a huge mistake for him to move to Ukraine. The impact on Europe and the rest of the world would be devastating, and he would pay a heavy price.

Scandal-hit British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also warned that any action by the Kremlin against his neighbor would be “a disaster not just for Russia, it would be a disaster for the world” and said that “the UK strongly supports sovereignty and integrity.” of Ukraine”.

In the meantime, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has worked tirelessly on the diplomatic front, meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva as well as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and NATO alliance leaders in Berlin, calling on all parties to avoid a return to Cold War-era tensions.

French President Emmanuel Macron also traveled to the Russian capital to meet Mr Putin over a lavish dinner as he sought to persuade him to withdraw his forces and avoid war, with the former seizing the opportunity to threaten a wider conflict in Europe in the event. that Ukraine is allowed to join NATO.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week became the latest leader to sit down with Mr Putin in hopes of making further progress in the name of peace as the Russian Defense Ministry released a video claiming to show columns equipment and military forces leaving Crimea, a move that did not convince NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who replied: “On the contrary, it seems that Russia is continuing its military reinforcement.

The issue of Ukraine’s exclusion from NATO has been a longtime obsession for Mr Putin, who bitterly recalls the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s as a “decade of humiliation” in which Bill Clinton’s United States “imposed its vision of order on Europe (including Kosovo in 1999) while the Russians could only stay arms crossed,” according to diplomatic relations expert James Goldgeier.

Mr. Yeltsin wrote to Mr. Clinton in September 1993, expressing similar concerns, saying: “We understand, of course, that any eventual integration of Eastern European countries into NATO will not automatically lead to alliance to turn against Russia in one way or another, but it is important to consider how our public opinion might react at this stage.

To address these concerns, the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed in 1997, a political agreement stating explicitly that: “NATO and Russia do not consider each other as adversaries”.

The formation of the NATO-Russia Council followed in 2002.

But Mr Putin would nonetheless regret what he sees as the alliance’s gradual eastward expansion, which saw ex-Soviet satellites Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland join in 1999, followed by Bulgaria, l Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004.

He chooses to interpret the recruitment from these nations as the US breaking a promise allegedly made by his then-Secretary of State James Baker to Mikhail Gorbachev during a visit to Moscow in February. 1990 to discuss German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“There would be no extension of NATO jurisdiction for NATO forces one inch to the east,” Mr. Baker reportedly promised Mr. Gorbachev, according to Russian officials, although that the quote is strongly disputed and that the latter denied that the subject was ever discussed in an October 2014 interview with the Kommersant newspaper.

Since then, Mr Putin has harbored a grudge, no doubt keen to foster anti-Western sentiment at home and shore up his power base, and has firmly opposed Georgia and Ukraine joining the the covenant.

“Obviously NATO enlargement has nothing to do with modernizing the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe,” he told the Munich conference. on security in 2007. “On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation which reduces the level of mutual trust.

The following April, at a NATO summit in Bucharest, he was even more categorical: “No Russian leader could stand idly by in the face of steps towards Ukraine’s NATO membership. It would be a hostile act towards Russia.

Four months later, Mr. Putin invaded Georgia, destroying the country’s armed forces, occupying two autonomous regions and humiliating a president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who had openly courted NATO membership, actions which sparked a new international condemnation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

(AP)

For its part, NATO’s official position remains that “a sovereign, independent and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is the key to Euro-Atlantic security”.

He points out that his associations with the country date back to the disintegration of the USSR and that cooperation had to be intensified in light of Russia’s regional aggression in 2014, when it annexed the Crimean peninsula and supported a separatist insurgency. after Putin’s ouster. ally Viktor Yanukovych, a fight that claimed 14,000 lives in the years that followed.

For the United States, Ukraine’s path to NATO membership is less clear.

Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as recently as June 8, 2021 that “we support Ukraine joining NATO,” but his deputy, Wendy Sherman, was more wary. when she addressed the issue last month, saying only: “Together, the United States and our NATO allies have made it clear that we will not slam the door on NATO’s open door policy – a policy that has always been at the heart of the NATO alliance.

Mr Biden, the former top Democrat and later chairman of that same committee, had previously believed that the transformation of former Soviet republics into NATO allies marked “the start of another 50 years of peace”, but has since tipped toward skepticism about US involvement in distant lands. “Forever Wars”, hence the hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer after 20 years of peaceful occupation.

He is also known to be determined to see political and judicial corruption eradicated in Ukraine and reluctant to further provoke the Russian bear, having lived most of his life in an era of mutually assured destruction, especially since the security threat posed by China is a current priority that cannot be ignored.

Without Ukraine being part of the alliance, the United States and NATO have no treaty obligation to come to its aid in the event of an attack by Russia, while these security guarantees are extended to Neighboring Baltic states like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since they signed the 2004 enthronement.

All three could become potential future targets for Russian annexation, moreover, if the current aggressions are allowed to continue unchecked and leave Mr. Putin feeling emboldened.

That said, Mr. Biden’s saber rhetoric strongly suggests that he is ready to step in in some form, even if that doesn’t mean American boots on the ground.

The United States provided Ukraine with $200 million in defensive military aid in January (and has given $2.5 billion since 2014) while the Pentagon says it already has 200 Guard troops national stationed in the country.

Harsh economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation could follow.

If it were to offer more direct defensive assets, the United States would be able to provide Ukraine with a wide range of assistance at no cost, ranging from air defence, anti-tank and anti-ship systems, electronic warfare and cyber defense systems to supplies of small arms and artillery ammunition.

“The key to thwarting Russian ambitions is to prevent Moscow from having a quick victory and increasing the economic, political and military costs by imposing economic sanctions, ensuring political isolation from the West and evoking the prospect of a protracted insurgency that draws away the Russian military,” Seth Jones and Philip Wasielewski wrote in an analysis of the situation for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But the only man who really knows what will happen next is Mr. Putin.


The Independent Gt

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